HALEIWA, Oahu/Hawaii (Friday, December 2, 2022) - Today, Sophie McCulloch (AUS) and John John Florence (HAW) claimed respective wins at the Haleiwa Challenger at home in the Hawaiian Islands, the final stop of the World Surf League (WSL) 2022 Challenger Series. Haleiwa delivered once again with six-to-eight foot, wave faces pulsing through the iconic lineup. Dreams were made and shattered today as this competition marked the conclusion of the 2022 Challenger Series to determine the final Championship Tour (CT) qualifiers.
Sophie McCulloch Defies the Odds, Wins Event To Claim 2023 CT Spot
An all-important conclusion to the women's event kicked off with qualification dark horse Sophie McCulloch (AUS) earning a 6.83 and taking control over reigning event victor Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW), event standout Eweleiula Wong (HAW), and CT qualification threat Teresa Bonvalot (PRT). With everything on the line, and needing a win to secure CT qualification, McCulloch garnered an excellent 8.17 with Sakura Johnson right behind her.
With time winding down, Bonvalot needed a mid-range score to secure a runner-up and qualification but couldn't find the requirement as Sakura Johnson's jaw-dropping 9.23 fell short of a perfect 10 to win the event.
"It means so much to me, and I actually had a lot of self-doubt heading into this event," said McCulloch. "Those girls have been ripping. Bettylou (Sakura Johnson) is so good out here, so that was kind of a blessing in disguise. Before the Final, someone told me it's not over, so I didn't know exactly what needed to happen and just knew I needed to give it my all. To be honest it added some nerves, but I'm really proud of my ability to regroup and just have the same intention."
McCulloch's winning streak began with a Quarterfinal win against Wong, an in-form Sarah Baum (RSA), and Japan's Amuro Tsuzuki. She won again in the Semifinals against Wong, former WSL World Junior Champion, Kirra Pinkerton (USA), and already confirmed CT competitor Molly Picklum (AUS).
Florence Goes Back-to-Back at Haleiwa In Phenomenal Fashion
Florence took control of the men's Final right away with a near-perfect 9.00 (out of a possible 10), his third of the event, against a heavy-hitting clash featuring event standouts Kanoa Igarashi (JPN), Ryan Callinan (AUS), and Michael Rodrigues (BRA). But, a minimal backup left Florence vulnerable, and Igarashi struck back alongside Callinan in a brilliant exchange with Igarashi posting an excellent 8.40 to take over the lead heading into the final ten minutes.
However, Florence was not to be outdone at home on the North Shore and turned in a critical hack-to-air reverse combination for a 7.77, and the lead he would hold until time expired.
"I came into this week feeling myself out and getting back into competing again, I'm at a loss for words," said Florence. "I'm super stoked to win at home and win it for Hawaii, especially in waves like this. It's incredible out there."
Florence's incredible run to the Final was highlighted by another, near-perfect and event best 9.83, in his Semifinal clash over Michael Rodrigues (BRA), Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA), and Kalani Ball (AUS).
Runner-up Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) charged through Finals Day with a Quarterfinal and Semifinal victory in stunning form. Her goal of rejoining the Dream Tour was accomplished after making it to the Round of 32, paired with Alyssa Spencer (USA) facing elimination in women's Quarterfinal Heat 1. Sakura Johnson, Haleiwa's own 17-year-old phenom, stunned the world once again throughout the 2022 Challenger Series with a Vans US Open of Surfing victory, and equal third-place finishes at the Boost Mobile Gold Coast Pro and Corona Saquarema Pro.
"I'm super excited. This whole year has been learning and hard work," said Sakura Johnson. "So many people to thank, and I'm just so thankful for all these opportunities. Thank you to everyone here at home, this is my favorite place in the world, and I couldn't have done it without you."
Men's runner-up, Igarashi's Finals Day form was emphatic, opening with an excellent 16.17 (out of possible 20) heat total in the Quarterfinals over all-star competitors Kauli Vast (FRA), Frederico Morais (PRT) and Morgan Cibilic (AUS). He again overcame Vaast along with newly confirmed 2023 CT competitor Maxime Huscenot (FRA) in the Semifinals. But now, the real work begins as the 2022 Rip Curl WSL Finals contender prepares for another year among the world's best and World Title run.
"I love these waves and it's great to start the Hawaii season with a Final and to share a Final with John (Florence)," said Igarashi. "It's a whole different playing field in Hawaii. Even though Haleiwa, Pipe, and Sunset are all so different, you get the rhythm. I'm looking forward to the rest of the winter."
Remaining CT Hopefuls Lock In Dream Tour Qualification, 2023 Classes Determined Liam O'Brien (AUS) will have a shot at redemption on the CT this upcoming season as he qualified for the 2022 CT but was not able to compete due to an injury.Also returning to join the world's best is Michael Rodrigues (BRA), who fell off the CT in 2019.
One of 2022's most exciting additions to the CT, Joao Chianca (BRA), fell just short of the Mid-Season Cut, but now returns to join the CT in 2023. A runner-up finish at the Vans US Open of Surfing and Semifinal finish at Corona Saquarema Pro helped the rising star move within the Top 10. After the opening Quarterfinal heat in Haleiwa unfolded, his return was solidified.
Ezekiel Lau (HAW) was eliminated in the Round of 32 and had to watch qualification scenarios unfold in anticipation. Fortunately, losses from his fellow competitors solidified his fate and locked him in as the final competitor to join the men's 2023 CT.
Billabong Pro Pipeline to Kickoff 2023 CT Season
The Billabong Pro Pipeline will be the first stop on the 2023 WSL Championship Tour. The event will hold a competition window from January 29 through February 10, 2023 at the world-famous Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu. The competition will be broadcast LIVE on WorldSurfLeague.com, the WSL's YouTube channel, and on the free WSL app. Also, check local listings for coverage from the WSL's broadcast partners.
For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.
Final 2022 Women's Challenger Series Rankings
- Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) 29,970
- Macy Callaghan (AUS) 28,920
- Molly Picklum (AUS) 28,630
- Caitlin Simmers (USA) 28,630
- Sophie McCulloch (AUS) 25,490
Final 2022 Men's Challenger Series Rankings
- Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 26,915
- Ryan Callinan (AUS) 26,030
- Rio Waida (IDN) 22,650
- Maxime Huscenot (FRA) 18,695
- Ramzi Boukhiam (MOR) 17,765
- Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 17,470
- Ian Gentil (HAW) 17,470
- Joao Chianca (BRA) 16,235
- Liam O'Brien (AUS) 16,050
- Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 15,770
Haleiwa Challenger Women's Final Results:
1 - Sophie McCulloch (AUS) 15.00
2 - Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) 14.23
3 - Teresa Bonvalot (PRT) 7.70
4 - Eweleiula Wong (HAW) 6.56
Haleiwa Challenger Men's Final Results:
1 - John John Florence (HAW) 16.77
2 - Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 14.87
3 - Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 11.76
4 - Ryan Callinan (AUS) 11.20
Haleiwa Challenger Men's Semifinal Results:
Heat 1: John John Florence (HAW) 17.23, Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 12.24, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 11.40, Kalani Ball (AUS) 8.33
Heat 2: Ryan Callinan (AUS) 16.50, Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 9.80, Kauli Vaast (FRA) 6.54, Maxime Huscenot (FRA) 5.50
Haleiwa Challenger Women's Semifinal Results:
Heat 1: Sophie McCulloch (AUS) 12.27, Eweleiula Wong (HAW) 9.90, Kirra Pinkerton (USA) 9.14, Molly Picklum (AUS) 9.14
Heat 2: Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) 15.24, Teresa Bonvalot (PRT) 12.50, Gabriela Bryan (HAW) 11.64, Sawyer Lindblad (USA) 10.93
Haleiwa Challenger Men's Quarterfinal Results:
Heat 1: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 12.43 DEF. Kalani Ball (AUS) 11.67, Ethan Ewing (AUS) 10.63, Gatien Delahaye (FRA) 5.26
Heat 2: John John Florence (HAW) 12.94 DEF. Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 10.90, Jesse Mendes (ITA) 10.84, Justin Becret (FRA) 7.40
Heat 3: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 16.17 DEF. Kauli Vaast (FRA) 11.03, Frederico Morais (PRT) 10.60, Morgan Cibilic (AUS) 9.67
Heat 4: Ryan Callinan (AUS) 12.73 DEF. Maxime Huscenot (FRA) 11.37, Imaikalani deVault (HAW) 10.97, Chris Zaffis (AUS) 10.60
Haleiwa Challenger Women's Quarterfinal Results:
Heat 1: Kirra Pinkerton (USA) 10.83, Molly Picklum (AUS) 9.17, Alyssa Spencer (USA) 8.47, Zahli Kelly (AUS) 7.07
Heat 2: Sophie McCulloch (AUS) 11.90, Eweleiula Wong (HAW) 11.70, Sarah Baum (RSA) 9.26, Amuro Tsuzuki (JPN) 4.50
Heat 3: Gabriela Bryan (HAW) 13.70, Sawyer Lindblad (USA) 13.20, Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 12.10, Macy Callaghan (AUS) 6.84
Heat 4: Teresa Bonvalot (PRT) 8.17, Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) 7.46, Zoe McDougall (HAW) 3.17, India Robinson (AUS) 1.36
For highlights from the Haleiwa Challenger, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com
The Haleiwa Challenger at home in the Hawaiian Islands is proudly sponsored by At Home in the Hawaii Islands, Hawaiian Tourism, Shiseido, Havaianas, Spectrum, 805, Alaska Air, Turtle Bay, Fu Wax, and Hydro Flask.
For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.