- WSL / Andrew Nichols

The next stop on the North America Qualifying Series schedule, the SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay pres. by French Hospital Medical Center QS 1,000, is locked and loaded with high-caliber talent vying for spots on the Challenger Series. This event marks a critical point of the season with four events in the books for the women with three remaining on schedule, along with two events down and four to go for the men.

A critical, third event for the men will unfold in the shadow of Morro Rock with surfers eager to keep their competitive momentum intact and build their points ahead of the halfway mark. As for the women, their Challenger Series qualification potential narrows with two 3,000-level events already in their scoreline.

Morro's Testing Waters Provide A Make Or Break Platform
Taj Lindblad (USA) advances to Round 5 after winning Heat 1 of Round 4 at Morro Bay on 28 February 2020 in Morro Bay, California, today. This event helped propel Taj Lindblad to the top of North America's rankings in 2020. - WSL / Andrew Nichols

A decisive 1,000 points are up for grabs, but the cold waters of California's beautiful Central Coast will play no favorites once the horn sounds.

While the women's field narrows towards Challenger Series qualification, a win at this event could be a critical change toward the Top 7 rankings with a mere 400 points between No. 7 and No. 8. This event could be the spark for a late surge from one of the many talents waiting for their moment to rise to the occasion.

The men's rankings are wide open with just two events down and this playing a decisive role in their Challenger Series qualification process. The Top 9 will solidify their place among the next level of competition for a crack at the Championship Tour for the remainder of 2022 while those who fall below the cutline will go back to the drawing board. A win this early on could be the difference between sitting below or above that line when last event victor of the season is crowned.

A Brief Look Back

SLO CAL Open: Simpo Shows the Magic in Morro
The recent runner-up in Pismo Beach and veteran talent continues to showcase, and be a role model for his students.

In 2020, this event provided the second event to the regional season following Pismo Beach and left competitors amping for more of what Morro Bay had to offer. But, with COVID-19 halting the world over, the event was forced to lay dormant last year and now SLO CAL, City of Morro Bay, Dignity Health and Surfing For Hope have helped revitalize this opportune moment for competitors.

A frigid, maiden event offered plenty of spectacle with the lefthander coming off Morro Rock providing excellent scoring opportunity the likes of former CT veteran Brett Simpson took full advantage of heading into the weekend action behind eventual winner Taro Watanabe. But, Watanabe was pushed to deliver more of his best against a formidable QS veteran David do Carmo who has rubbed elbows with some of the world's best in the water as a wildcard in his breakout years.

Ella McCaffray: Back-to-Back SLO CAL Open Finals Days in 2020
The up-and-coming Southern California talent is back into finals day to start 2020 strong on the Central Coast.

Women standouts included then 15-year-old Sawyer Lindblad who was fresh off a Pismo Beach victory and made a run toward going back-to-back before Izzi Gomez delivered a knockout punch in the Final with her backhand approach after eliminating now-Championship Tour threat Caitlin Simmers. Notable performances from 2021 Challenger Series qualifier Ella McCaffray and in-form Makena Burke rounded out an impeccable start to Morro Bay's introduction to the surfing world at large on the professional stage.

Tune in LIVE beginning February 24 - 27 for all of this year's action from the SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay pres. by French Hospital Medical Center.

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