A proper finals day send off at the SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay presented by French Hospital Medical Center crowned Sage Erickson and Kei Kobayashi victors in waves of consequence. Pumping, six-to-eight, occasional ten foot swell pulsed into Morro Rock's lineup as Erickson and Kobayashi had to overcome the conditions along with their respective stacked finals day draw. In the end, Erickson took down an in-form Leilani McGonagle and Kobayashi bested event standout Kei Kobayashi.
A stout Final featuring Championship Tour (CT) veteran Erickson and proven QS charger McGonagle unfolded with the young Costa Rican taking an early lead over the veteran talent. At the halfway mark, Erickson regained a slim lead before McGonagle turned in another scoring ride to accrue an 8.75 (out of a possible 20) heat total and took the lead right back. But, Erickson wasn't to be outdone and turned in a heat-best 7.25 (out of a possible 10) as she showed her experience over McGonagle. (Full interview in video above)
"This feels amazing and this is why we do it," said Erickson. "It means everything. Each heat is really challenging, the girls these days are amazing and Morro Bay gave us every single condition possible. Morro Bay has always had a place in my heart and now it's that much more special."
The former CT veteran Erickson had to overcome one of the top emerging talents in Sawyer Lindblad for their Semifinal affair after Lindblad got the better of Erickson at Pismo Beach. But, Erickson's ability to find her way and adapt to the chaos paved the way to her Final appearance before her first win since 2019. This result marks a huge jump for Erickson who is now within striking distance of the Challenger Series with two crucial events remaining.
The men's Final was a battle between event standouts Kobayashi and Richards with both posting excellent scores throughout the competition. Kobayashi's quick start earned him the early lead before the ocean went sporadic with massive, closeout sets that tested both competitors as Richards struggled to post a score of substance heading into the final ten minutes. San Clemente, California's Kobayashi found a 6.50 reinforcement to put Richards in need of two scores with five minutes left and ultimately earned a long-awaited second-career QS win. (Full interview in video above)
"This feels so good and I've been working really hard at DSC, and to have my hard work pay off means a lot," said Kobayashi. "I had a shocker in Pismo Beach and there were mistakes I wasn't going to make in this contest. I missed the Challenger (Series) by one spot and I definitely don't want to do that this year."
A massive day for Kobayashi began with a Quarterfinal duel against event threat, recent SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach runner-up, Levi Slawson before dismantling local hero Braden Jones in the Semifinals. The 22-year-old's tenacity when opportunities arose garnered him an impressive 13.50 to make his first Final appearance since 2020. Now, Kobayashi sits atop the regional rankings and will look to stay within the Challenger Series qualification by season's end.
Costa Rica's next Championship Tour (CT) qualification threat McGonagle didn't hold back throughout this contest and sent herself into some finals day gems beginning with Ella McCaffray in the Semifinals. The 21-year-old's aggressive approach marched her to runner-up and a clutch result she desperately needed in the back half of the season. With two events left and 4,000 points on the line, McGonagle will have everything to surf for to place herself within the North America Top 7 rankings.
"I'm super stoked because right now my goal is to surf smart heats and have good events instead of focusing on the final big goal," said McGonagle. "Of course, hopefully getting those small goals will get me the big goals and I'm trying to enjoy that part of surfing and learning. It was great to share that Final with Sage who I've looked up to since I was little, and she was looking out for the girls saying let me know if you need help because it was massive out there (laughs)."
South Carolina's Richards delivered an impeccable run to the Final after facing San Clemente, California threat Kade Matson in their Quarterfinal bout and dealt with the chaotic conditions. A battle with former event runner-up David Do Carmo gave way to one of the best heats of the day with both surfers trading wave-for-wave excellence, Do Carmo earning an 8.50 and Richards going better with a 9.00. Richards now sits at No. 2 on the rankings with solid footing into the regional Top 9 Challenger Series qualification cutoff.
"I was out of energy no doubt and it was hard to get waves in the Final," said Richards. "The offshores on a smaller board was pretty tough and it is what it is, I'm happy I made that Final. A dolphin almost landed on me while dodging a ten-foot set and after that I got a bit rattled. Hopefully I can give myself a pillow going into Barbados in case things don't go to plan there."
A big day ended with Semifinal appearances for the likes of 2021 Challenger Series threat and now-proven talents Lindblad, Rapoza, and McCaffray. For 2020 event runner-up Do Carmo, his impressive showcase in the Semifinals, earning an excellent 8.50, was only lacking a back up score before the clock expired.
Now, the men will prepare for their next endeavor to find points in warmer waters. The next event will be the Cabarete Pro powered by Carumbula Surf House QS 1,000 beginning March 3 - 6 while the women will make their next appearance at the Ron Jon Quiksilver and Roxy Pro QS 1,000 March 9 - 13.
Day 3 Recap: Swell Turns On to Determine Finals Day Draw
Swell began showing its cold water teeth at the SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay pres. by French Hospital Medical Center on moving day that brought out the best in competitors with men's Quarterfinalists and women's Semifinalists locked in. Four-to-six foot, occasional eight foot, building swell began pumping into the Morro Rock lineup and surfers answered right back with a spectacle of performances.
Last year provided the proving ground for what the Challenger Series was going to look like and Cole Houshmand made a surge toward Championship Tour qualification. Today, the San Clemente, California competitor showed why he's a threat to the world's elite, posting a jaw-dropping 18.15 (out of a possible 20) heat total and now looks to to secure his first-ever QS victory on finals day. (Full interview in video above)
Cam Richards' prowess in the barrel is what makes him a danger-factor during any contest when opportunities arise and the South Carolina competitor treated spectators to his potential in the Round of 32. Notching back-to-back barrel rides, Richards posted a 15.75 heat total to take control of the heat before earning a runner-up to Houshmand in their Round of 16 battle for place into the Quarterfinals. (Full interview in video above)
One of Costa Rica's next CT qualification hopes Leilani McGonagle needs a big result to help ease the end of season pressure of making the Top 7. McGonagle's impressive Round of 16 win over Kirra Pinkerton, also advancing, and event threats Noah Klapp and Chiasa Maruyama laid the foundation for her run before battling with fellow Costa Rican Rubiana Brownell in the Quarterfinals. (Full interview in video above)
Ella McCaffray turned in one of the upsets of the event so far with a brilliant win, along with Rubiana Brownell advancing, and eliminating North America No. 2 Caitlin Simmers and wildcard threat Zoe Benedetto. McCaffray's aggressive forehand led the way to securing her win before a battle with Kirra Pinkerton unfolded in their Quarterfinal duel, exchanging wave for wave with the advantage going to McCaffray. (Full interview in video above)
Encinitas, California's own Levi Slawson is fresh off a runner-up in Pismo Beach but wants more and showed that determination today with near-perfection in his Round of 32 heat with a turn-to-lofty air-reverse combination, turning in a 9.25 (out of a possible 10). Slawson then went on to battle with event threats Jett Schilling, SLO's own Braden Jones, also advancing with the hometown crowd behind him, and fellow San Diego area surfer Ryland Rubens - taking the heat to earn back-to-back Quarterfinal appearances. (Full interview in video)
Sawyer Lindblad's undeniable competitive surge looked to be unstoppable after posting an event best 16.00 heat total, including a single-wave score of an 8.50. The 16-year-old went on to defeat Havanna Cabrero in the Quarterfinals and will take on the veteran talent Erickson once again, this time in the Semifinals, as both look for long-awaited WSL wins.
Sage Erickson kept her winning form intact to open moving day action with a solid 13.40 heat total before another brilliant showing in the Quarterfinals. Erickson took down emerging threat Bella Kenworthy and now sees herself one spot further than the SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach as she looks for her first WSL win since 2019.
Also notching big results and making their way into finals day with big Round of 16 wins, Nolan Rapoza and Kade Matson surged their way into the Quarterfinals with impressive showings. Rapoza's forehand and backhand attack throughout his Round of 32 and Round of 16 heats, eliminating two of Central Coast's top performers Kilian Garland and Cory Arrambide, led to two victories and a shot to find redemption from his Quarterfinals appearance at the SLO CAL Open Pismo Beach alongside Kei Kobayashi.
For Matson, a similar storyline follows with the Quarterfinals noting his stopping point in Pismo Beach, but a sharp backhand showcased his abilities when the waves begin to show their energy with an excellent score in his Round of 32 heat. The San Clemente competitor joins fellow town-surfer Houshmand after losing Crosby Colapinto to a buzzer-beating wave that fell short and Brazil's David do Carmo made it through.
Finals day call at 7:30 a.m. PDT will determine a likely start for 8:00 a.m. PDT.
Day 2: Competitors Overpower Testy Conditions
More favorable winds gave way to great surfing despite the smaller conditions on offer at the SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay pres. by French Hospital Medical Center. The men continued to post brilliance on the running lefthander to complete their Round of 64 matchups before the women made their big debut to power through the Round of 40 and 32.
San Clemente made their presence known in both the men's and women's events with one of the top up-and-coming women Sawyer Lindblad continuing her dominating run in recent events. Fresh off a runner-up in Pismo Beach, the 16-year-old boasted a day's best 8.25 and 14.25 heat total. Lindblad is also joined by former 2018 WSL World Junior Champion Kirra Pinkerton and emerging talent Bella Kenworthy representing the Southern California hotspot. (Full interview in video above)
A quintet of San Clemente, California men's standouts led the pack to finish off the men's Round of 64 in impressive form. After a shaky start to his 2021/22' campaign, Crosby Colapinto showed his potential in decimating form with a 14.65 (out of a possible 20) heat total. Colapinto has put his time in on the North Shore this winter and looks to bring that success to the rest of his season for a chance at rejoining the Challenger Series. (Full interview in video above)
Former Championship Tour (CT) start Sage Erickson started her event off in excellent fashion, earning an 8.00 on her opening wave, utilizing a powerful forehand attack. Erickson fell shy of a Semifinal to an in-form Linblad at Pismo Beach, but competing isn't everything to the battle-proven competitor as her passions have expanded over the years. (Full interview in video above)
Fellow San Clemente standouts Cole Houshmand, Taj Lindblad, Jeremy Carter, and Kade Matson join Colapinto into the Round of 32 with heat wins after putting on a display of backhand surfing of their own. Lindblad's blistering 7.75 matched that of Colapinto's for a day's best as Carter kept his winning form intact from the Round of 96. Houshmand's display of forehand surfing on the lefthanders garnered a solid 13.10 heat total en route to dismantling Round of 96 standout Sam Reidy.
"That heat was incredibly slow so thank God I got two waves," said Carter. "I'm just going to try and stay in the moment, and whatever happens, happens. Hopefully I can make some heats because it feels pretty good."
Santa Cruz's Sam Coffey overpowered the running lefthanders and secured a massive heat win, though bittersweet as fellow Santa Cruz competitor John Mel, recent SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach victor, faced elimination. Now, Coffey looks to earn a big result of his own to jumpstart his 2021/22' season. (Full interview in video above)
The Santa Cruz squad wasn't done yet as Autumn Hays returned to form once more in Morro Bay with brilliant forehand surfing to turn in a 7.10 and Keanna Miller earned herself a runner-up behind Erickson to keep her campaign alive. Hays' recent performances have garnered her consecutive finals day appearances as she looks for more success.
"It's amazing to see everyone from home doing well and hopefully we can keep going," said Hays. "I think I've made finals day of every event except Oceanside so far which feels really good. My eyes are definitely set on another finals day here and better my result from Pismo Beach."
Also notching big heat wins, Ventura's Makena Burke, Costa Rica's Olympian Leilani McGonagle, 2021 qualification threat Caitlin Simmers, and Encinitas' rising competitor Ella McCaffray are into the Round of 16.
Returning event runner-up David do Carmo debuted brilliantly with a 7.50 to his scoreline before securing a Round of 64 heat win over higher-seeded surfer Alan Cleland, also advancing. Do Carmo's early exit at Pismo Beach field the Brazilian even more to work on turning in a big result here at Morro Bay and is looking for similar success he had in 2020. (Full interview in video above)
Rounding out the Round of 64, Cam Richards' buzzer-beater in the first heat saw him through and now looks to build on that winning momentum after an equal third at the SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach.
Opening Day Review
The SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay presented by French Hospital Medical Center got underway and a showcase of dynamic surfing followed. Tough, three-to-four foot conditions provided plenty of opportunity for competitors when they could differentiate good waves from the bad. Competition ran through the Round of 96 and first eight heats of the Round of 64, getting a glimpse of top seeds making their debuts.
None did better at that than Mexico's renowned talent Jhony Corzo who found near-perfection in the blustery, afternoon lineup for a 9.25 (out of a possible 10). Corzo's decimating backhand overpowered section after section, finding rhythm amid the wave's choppy face and turned in a 15.25 (out of a possible 20) by the time his heat was done. He currently sits at No. 26 on the rankings and needs a big result coming to this event but started off in the right direction.
Kilian Garland came out firing on all cylinders, posting an excellent 8.50 (out of a possible 10) on his second scoring wave to separate himself from the pack before garnering a 6.50 to secure his Round of 96 heat win. Garland then went on to battle with defending event winner Taro Watanabe and higher-seeded competitor Skip McCullough, narrowly escaping elimination with a last-minute score to overtake runner-up behind Watanabe.
"I didn't start off on the best foot in the first heat but then I started feeling better and better," said Garland. "Then that last heat was a lot different. I had a really good wave at the beginning for what the conditions were and it just didn't come together on my last turn. After that I just had to go back to the basics and put a score together. I nearly fumbled the last wave but I recovered and knew I just had to put a couple turns together and hopefully got the score."
Costa Rica has catapulted into the professional surfing limelight in recent days with Brisa Hennessy winning the Hurley Pro Sunset, marking the country's first-ever Championship Tour (CT) win and now Sam Reidy is hoping to add onto that success in Morro Bay. The 18-year-old found some results among the Pro Junior ranks and now looks to translate that to the QS, starting his event with an impeccable 14.75 (out of a possible 20) heat total. But, Reidy's ambitions are set much higher than just early heat wins. (Full interview in video)
"It was really awesome to get out there and capitalize on two waves," said Reidy. "I'm looking to go for the Challenger Series and if I don't then I'll have a high seed for next year. It's really cool to be on the QS full (time) this year, it's been a dream of mine to make the Tour so I'm going to make it happen."
2019 ISA World Junior Championships Gold Medalist Dimitri Poulos showed his determination to get an early heat win, starting off with an impressive 7.75 before finishing the heat with a 6.85 to steal the victory back from El Salvador's Brian Perez, also advancing. Poulos took time away from the jersey once events returned and made his comeback in Pismo Beach just weeks ago, and now looks for a better result after an early exit. (Full interview in video)
"I don't know what to make of (qualifying for the Challenger Series)," said Poulos. "This is my first year fully doing QS events. I'm just trying to learn as I go and figure it out. The goal is to try and go all the way."
Notable Performances from Familiar Faces
Notable performances from a big opening day also included recent SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach runner-up Levi Slawson, Pismo Beach local hero Braden Jones, previous North America Pro Junior No. 1 Jabe Swierkocki, 2021 Challenger Series threat Nolan Rapoza, Jeremy Carter, Cole McCaffray, Kai McPhillips, and more.
A 7:00 a.m. PDT call will determine a likely start to men's Round of 64 continued action and women's debuts. Watch LIVE at www.WorldSurfLeague.com February 24 - 27.