The stakes are higher and the back half of the 2022/23' North America Qualifying Series (QS) season is set to get underway for the SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach QS 3,000, as well as the 2023 Pro Junior season start.
This marks the fifth edition of QS competition, but now the stakes are higher with 3,000 points on the line to kickstart the second half of the 2022/23 season as some of the region's best are set. Also, Pro Juniors join the event to start their respective 2023 season and add more excitement to the already central coast staple event.
"Getting this competition upgraded to a 3,000 has been a lot of work, but Surfing For Hope has a lot of support in the community and everything came together," said Event Director Andy McKay. "Adding the Pro Junior was just the icing on the cake. Hosting a week-long event in late January is great for the local economy and should provide some challenging conditions for the athletes."
North America QS Back In Action
Former event winner Kirra Pinkerton returns looking to get her rhythm on the regional QS back after finishing with an equal fifth-place at the Haleiwa Challenger. Currently sitting at No. 9 on the North America rankings, the 20-year-old looks to return to winning form at Pismo Beach, a venue she knows all too well, and make her way back to the 2023 Challenger Series.
"I grew up doing so many events here and it's a little home away from home, and to get a good result would be really cool," said Pinkerton. "Especially since it is a bigger event than what it was before so I'm hoping to do well. Now that I've broken that curse [of equal ninth-place finishes], I feel like I can much further."
Pinkerton will be joined by a plethora of North America's best including North America No. 1, and 2020 event winner, Sawyer Lindblad, former Championship Tour (CT) competitor Chelsea Tuach, current No. 2 and 3 Bella Kenworthy and Zoe Benedetto, respectively, and more emerging talents.
The men's QS event has witnessed a multitude of winners including California Central Coast's own Cory Arrambide, German representative Leon Glatzer, one of surfing's exciting aerialists Kevin Schulz, and defending event winner John Mel. But, in its expanding history, the event hasn't had a local finalist so far and Pismo Beach's own Austin Neumann looks to change that.
"Usually traveling to contests is a huge effort so it's nice to just be comfortable in your own bed and not have to worry about getting to the competition," said Neumann. "I haven't had the best run in events so I'm just trying to have fun and be a good head space, and I think that, along with being at home, will help. Hopefully I can put on a show for the local community."
Central Coast competitors will have to fend off the likes of North America's top-tier talents including North America No. 1 Jett Schilling, reigning North America Regional Champion Michael Dunphy, notable Challenger Series competitor Nolan Rapoza, and recent SAMBAZON World Junior Championships runner-up Levi Slawson - who will also compete in the Pro Junior event.
Fresh Start For Pro Juniors, New Season Awaits
With both men's 2022 World Junior Top 2 representatives aging out, new and familiar faces look to take their place including Slawson, Schilling, and more. San Luis Obispo's own Jackson Meyer hopes to start his WSL career in good form at the venue he learned to surf and compete. The 16-year-old has had success on the amateur level, and now looks to bring that to some of the region's top competitors.
"It's awesome to have a Pro Junior event locally and I'm grateful to be competing at the spot I surf almost every day with all the local guys," said Meyer. "It's a super exciting opportunity since we can have all the local boys there to support each other. I couldn't have picked a more special place [for my first WSL competition] since I won my first competition here and my first high school competition here."
The women's field features some of North America's top QS talents including Lindblad, Kenworthy, former QS victor Makena Burke, 2022 North America No. 2 Rubiana Brownell, and World Junior Championships wildcard Ella McCaffray. But, rising talents such as Talia Swindal, Vela Mattive, and more will look to make their season starts count with a big result.
"I am so excited for a fresh start to the Pro Junior season! I have been spending the past month of my time over in Hawaii, so mentally I am feeling relaxed and rejuvenated," said Swindal. "It was nice to have a short break from competition, but now I feel really fired up to get back into the jersey. My last year of competition was definitely full of learning so this opportunity of a new season is quite nice."
Event organizers will convene at 7:00 a.m. PST to determine a possible 7:30 a.m. PST start to competition.
The SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach will open on January 23 and hold a competition window through January 23, 2023. Once called ON, the event will be broadcast LIVE on WorldSurfLeague.com, WSL's YouTube channel, and the free WSL app.