- WSL / Andrew Nichols

A critical day of competition dwindled respective fields at the World Surf League (WSL) SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach, a Qualifying Series (QS) 3,000 and Pro Junior. Two-to-four foot swell provided moments of spectacle as some of North America's premier competitors contested in the men's Round of 32 and 16 along with the women's Round of 16 heats. Some marquee names were eliminated as familiar faces and emerging talents took control to make their way into the Quarterfinals.

Bella Kenworthy Puts SLO CAL Open At Pismo Beach On Notice
The San Clemente, California, rising threat earned an impressive 14.26 with her powerful forehand and backhand attack as she heads into the Quarterfinals.

One of North America's rising talents, Bella Kenworthy, made her presence known with another brilliant heat win, this time in the Round of 16. The 16-year-old's decimating forehand earned her an early, 6.17 (out of a possible 10) start before unleashing her backhand attack to accrue a 14.26 (out of a possible 20) heat total. Now, the current North America No. 2 is back into the Quarterfinals and ready for more.

"It feels really good to make a few heats and get some fun waves," said Kenworthy. "I was just trying to focus, no heat is easy at these events so I was just staying focused on my surfing and doing the best I could."

Leilani McGonagle Overpowers Superheat In SLO CAL Open At Pismo Beach
The Costa Rican laid down a solid performance to overtake former event victor Kirra Pinkerton and former CT star Sage Erickson.

Just prior to Kenworthy, Round of 16, Heat 2 featured a superheat including former event winner Kirra Pinkerton, former Championship Tour (CT) star Sage Erickson, an in-form Leilani McGonagle, and Southern California threat Ella McCaffray. McGonagle left nothing to chance and capitalized on each opportunity to earn a 12.66 heat total early on as Pinkerton's final attempt in the dying moments earned her an advancing spot over Erickson and McCaffray.

"I'm definitely excited, I think my side of the draw has been super stacked but it makes me want to surf smarter," said McGonagle. "This year I have a goal of pushing my surfing as far as I can and stop making little mistakes in heats."

Also making crucial Quarterfinal appearances, current North America No. 1 Sawyer Lindblad and No. 3 Zoe Benedetto both earned heat wins with Taylor Stacy and Lanea Mons advancing behind them, respectively.

Electric Performances Ensue For Men's Round of 16 Bouts
Evan Geiselman Ups The Ante With Aerial Antics In SLO CAL Open At Pismo Beach
The Floridian went next level with his forehand aerial assault to earn an 8.33 and 15.66 heat total in the Round of 16.

One of North America's decorated competitors, Evan Geiselman, showcased his experience and flair in dynamic form to earn one of the event's best performances of a 15.66 heat totals. The New Smyrna Beach, Florida, surfer took to the air for a day's best, excellent 8.33, on his forehand, stomping the landing and securing a Quarterfinal appearance alongside Jhony Corzo (MEX), also advancing. Now, Geiselman eyes down a big result to turn his 2022/23' season around and make a charge toward the Challenger Series.

"It was fun out there, some meaty sections to give you something to unload on so I'm happy to get through it," said Geiselman. "I already have a Quarterfinal from Virginia Beach which was a QS 3,000 so that's the goal at every event and you should be okay for Challenger Series, but I always want to go deeper into these events and that's my goal here."

Dimitri Poulos Battles It Out For Quarterfinal Berth In SLO CAL Open At Pismo Beach
The Ventura, California competitor had to overcome a North America QS superheat and shined with a 14.20 heat total.

The men's Round of 16 kicked off in jaw-dropping fashion with some of North America's top talents including defending event winner John Mel, Crosby Colapinto, Ryland Rubens, and Dimitri Poulos. A back-and-forth battle ensued with Colapinto and Mel trading off scores before Poulos took over on long righthanders that he was able to showcase his powerful forehand on all the way to the beach to earn a 14.20 heat total. Colapinto's backhand attack kept him in the advancing spot as a new event winner will be crowned with Mel's elimination.

"That was a nail-biter to be honest," said Poulos. "It was one of those [heats], didn't get a good start and everyone was getting waves. I went down the beach which is always 50-50, never really knowing and I got one that put me back in it."

Levi Slawson's Diamond In The Rough, Excellent Score In SLO CAL Open At Pismo Beach
The Encinitas, California, competitor blasts a day's best 8.50 in the final heat of day five to earn his spot into the Quarterfinals.

Also earning notable Round of 16 victories, Jabe Swierkocki and Levi Slawson turned in big performances with Barbados' marquee competitor Josh Burke and Taj Lindblad advancing into the Quarterfinals.

Event organizers will convene at 7:30 a.m. PST to determine a likely 8:00 a.m. PST start to competition.

Watch LIVE

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.

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