You can only be called underrated for so long. For Maui's Imaikalani deVault it's been a tag he may have only just finally shed. Voted Most Underrated in SURFING Mag's Peer Poll in 2016, anyone who has witnessed Imai's surfing knows that he is a surfer with immense talent.
Having been pushed onto a wave Launiupoko Beach Park in Lahaina by his Dad aged four, he was hooked on surfing. He started competing from the age of eight and was crowned the Hawaii State Surfing Champion in 2011. After a successful junior career, he started surfing full-time on the QS in 2016.
It seemed success would be only a matter of time. While on land he has a laid-back and quiet demeanor, his surfing style screamed for attention. He can boost huge airs, pull into heaving barrels and perform huge carves, all with a crisp and refined style credited to the waves he grew up on The Valley Isle.
And yet the underrated tag stuck with him. A reluctance to bang his own drum may have hurt his profile, but a failure to turn his elemental style into competitive success also held him back. Despite being on the QS full-time since 2016, his best result, until recently, was a Quarterfinal and his highest finish QS ranking only 75. It was perhaps only his second in the Pipe Masters Trials in 2019 that stood out as competitive benchmark.
That's why his performance in this year's Challenger Series has not been so much a revelation, but a vindication. A Semifinal finish in the MEO Vissla Pro Ericeira was perhaps the first time we've seen the true potential of DeVault unlocked in competition.
His first four heat totals were 16.17, 16.50, 19.60 (which included a perfect 10) and 16.17 as the 24-year-old blazed a stylish, explosive and progressive path on his magic black KT surfboard through the field. As his confidence built, you had the sense there wasn't a surfer in the field who could touch him.
"Qualifying this year for me would be more than a dream come true," DeVault explained to the WSL. "It's cliche to say but it's true. I know that I've wanted to make the CT since I started competing at 6 years old. Also just to come off COVID year of not competing and not really knowing what exactly was going to happen, to get some results and be in the best position I've ever been in to make it, feels pretty surreal."
That result has seen him rise to No. 4 on the Challenger Series, and lie potentially a few heats away from CT qualification. It is hard to think of a wave more suited to DeVault's mix of power and style than Haleiwa, and he could well become the first Maui surfer to crack the CT since his mentor Dusty Payne and Sebastian Zietz. If so, don't expect any grand statements of intent from the quiet DeVault. We could however put the underrated tag to bed once and for all.
"I think mindset's really good. I'm confident that I've done the work to put myself in the position that I'm in and I'm just trusting in myself," he continued. "I'm more relaxed going in to it even than years prior. I've always imagined being in the scenario of being on the cusp of qualifying coming in to Hawaii, so to be in this position just feels right."
Tune into the Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold Haleiwa Challenger LIVE from the North Shore of Oahu from November 26 - December 7 to see who will make the cut for the 2022 Championship Tour.