The Challenger Series didn't end too well for a clutch of European surfers vying for their CT dream. In the Women's French veteran Pauline Ado and Basque surfer Ariane Ochoa traveled to Hawaii sitting in the qualification places. Early Round losses at Haleiwa for both however saw their hopes fade quickly. The same applied to the Portuguese pair of Yolanda Hopkins and Teresa Bonvalot. While both made a few heats, they didn't get the big result they needed.
In the Men's no European was in touching distance of qualification, and there were no Hawaiian miracles. With the retirement of Jeremy Flores and veteran Michel Bourez missing the cut, 2022 will see only Johanne Defay, Leonardo Fioravanti, and Frederico Morais representing Europe on the CT.
Yet, while European CT hopes and dreams were evaporating in the rip bowls and humid air of Haleiwa, back on the continent, the rest of Europe's best surfers gathered to start the comeback. The setting though couldn't have been more different.
Instead of golden sands, there was snow. Boardshorts were replaced with 5/4 steamers, hoods, gloves, and booties. And rather than the surging, rip bowl randomness of the Haleiwa Toilet Bowl, there were the ordered sets of the Wavegarden technology pumping out eight-wave sets into a man-made lake.
This was the venue of the inaugural The Alaïa Open Winter Cup, held at Alaïa Bay in the Swiss Alps town of Sion. The organizers had posted up a $70k purse, and attracted an international field in the Open Men's and Women's and Junior divisions.
"It was just a very different competitive experience," said French QS surfer Justin Becret, who finished third in the marquee Men's Open's division. "From walking through the snow to surfing in the mountains, and with a different competitive format, it just felt fresh."
Surfers had an expression session style heat on Friday, with eight surfers in the water for hour-long heats. Judges would adjudicate which surfers progress to the later rounds. Over the weekend four surfers would surf 30-minute heats on the Left and The Right. The first half of the heats were judged on turns. Then with a flick of the switch, the tube section would be turned on and the surfers scored on their barrel riding ability.
If that seems like a lot of time in the water, well it was. Becret said he was as physically tired at the end of the day as some of the big-wave sessions he'd been putting in at Hossegor recently. Becret would be relegated to third by Brazilians Pedro Menezes and Frankin Serpa. In the Open Women's QS veteran Maud Le Car took the win over Nadja Erostarbe Beiser and Lucia Martino.
If those Finalists were tired though, spare a thought for Kai and Hans Odrozola. The Basque brothers surfed in both the Junior's and Open's Divisions. Hans made both Finals, while Kai won the Junior's and surfed in the Semis of the Open. The teenagers eached surfed for a minimum of five hours a day, and no one saw them without a wetsuit on for the duration of the event.
During the evening, the venue went more back to its alpine-style roots. A typical winter ski resort opening party was held with six resident DJ's from Ibiza pumping out tunes to the early hours of the below-freezing Swiss morning.
Overall the event was deemed a success. The rapid expansion of wave-making technology means that elite-level competition will inevitably be held more in these types of facilities. The majority of the field competing were young Europeans, all with the single goal of becoming professional surfers. This tech, and these events, will only help them make that leap.
"Obviously, I want to be in Hawaii, surfing against the best in the world to make the CT," concludes Becret. "But this was a new idea, in a cool spot and great way of testing your surfing, both physically and mentally. You could see the European surfing talent on show. There's plenty more to come from this side of the pond."