- WSL / Christophe

Jackson Bunch emerged victorious at the World Surf League (WSL) Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro, a men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000, and became the Hawaii/Tahiti Nui QS Regional Champion in the process. A stellar performance from Bunch in two-to-three foot, clean conditions, culminated into a victory over an in-form Mihimana Braye. This marked the end of Hawaii/Tahiti Nui's 2022/23' season and Challenger Series competitors are finalized after Bunch's massive win.

Jackson Bunch Claims Maiden WSL Win At Rangiroa, Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Regional Title
The Paia, Maui, competitor had a day of days to jumpstart his young career with a first-ever WSL win in dominant form at Rangiroa.

A showdown of two event threats unfolded between Bunch and Braye with Bunch getting a quick start to put pressure on Braye early on with a 10.33 (out of a possible 20) heat total. The newly crowned Hawaii/Tahiti Nui QS Regional Champion then went on to unleash his backhand attack under Braye's priority and notch a near-excellent 7.50 to put the Tahitian into a combination situation, meaning he needed two new scores to equal Bunch, at the halfway mark.

But, the action wasn't done as Braye answered back with a 7.00 of his own before Bunch responded with one more opportunity in their exchange, posting the best score of finals day with an excellent 8.93 and closing out the heat in brilliant form to earn his maiden QS win.

"I can't believe it, it's the best way to end the season," said Bunch. "The waves were a bit slow, but I got a few really fun waves and I'm really happy to take the win. It was a good [Final]. I got lucky that both of my high scoring waves were under priority which he never went on so just tried to surf it as best as I could."

Jackson Bunch (HAW) Jackson Bunch's (HAW) relentless backhand was unstoppable on Finals Day. - WSL / Christophe

A massive day for Bunch started in a Quarterfinal clash with Challenger Series hopeful Sheldon Sheldon Paishon, as the winner of the heat had the opportunity to claim the regional title. Bunch took an impressive win before going on to take control of his Semifinal affair with a 7.67 right away and then backed it up with a 7.57 just over the halfway mark to force Luke Swanson into needing a near-perfect 9.54. Now, The Paia, Maui, competitor turns his focus to the 2023 Challenger Series.

Mihimana Braye Represents Tahitians Strong With Runner-Up Finish At Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro
The Tahitian Mihimana Braye powered his way through to a maiden Rangiroa Final after stunning performances.

For one of Tahiti's own, Braye, the runner-up was bittersweet after a brilliant run through the event. Braye's early lead in Semifinal, Heat 1 earned him a 7.57 over an in-form Kai Paula, but nearly slipped away as the minutes dwindled with Paula's 12.90 heat total holding firm. Rangiroa gifted Braye one last opportunity under the five-minute mark that the Tahitian capitalized on for a 5.60 and a crucial heat win before his Final showdown unfolded.

"I wasn't in the rhythm, Jackson had a better strategy and he was trying to build some scores," said Braye. "I got caught [in the middle] actually. My strategy was to wait for the set but I just wasn't in rhythm and I did my best. You always want to win so I'm a little disappointed but thank you to everyone and onto the next."

Braye now prepares for the start of WSL Europe's 2023/24' QS season and his opportunity to rejoin the Challenger Series elite.

Notable Finishes For Luke Swason and Kai Paula With Semifinal Appearances

Kai Paula (HAW) Kai Paul (HAW) surfed his way straight into the Semifinals, and onto the 2023 Challenger Series. - WSL / Abraham Christophe

This event was critical for Kai Paula as the Hana, Maui, competitor needed a result if he wanted to see himself join the Challenger Series elite - and he did just that. Paula's advancement into the Semifinals pushed himself past Paishon, with Paishon needing to keep the pace, and, with his Quarterfinal loss to Bunch, Paula's Semifinal appearance was enough to secure his spot.

Luke Swanson (HAW) Luke Swanson (HAW) notched a career-best Semifinal appearance. - WSL / Christophe

A dramatic Quarterfinal finish for Luke Swanson witnessed him earn a 7.17 in the dying minutes over Tahitian Enrique Ariitu to claim his spot into the Semifinals. This marked Swanson best performance on the QS so far in his young career as he will reset for the 2023/24' Pro Junior and QS seasons.

Final 2022/23 Top 5 Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Rankings:

  1. Jackson Bunch (HAW) 2,095 points
  2. Eli Hanneman (HAW) 1,550 points
  3. Joshua Moniz (HAW) 1,500 points
  4. Shion Crawford (HAW) 1,350 points
  5. Kai Paula (HAW) 1,310 points
Heavy Eliminations Ensue, Challenger Series Spots Secured, Finals Day Awaits

A critical day of action unfolded at the World Surf League (WSL) Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro, a men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000, with Finals Day spots on the line in three-to-five foot, fading swell that halted in the Quarterfinals. With the Round of 32, Heats 3 - 8 completed in their entirety, the remaining top seeds debuted in solid conditions before the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals, Heats 1 - 2, finished the day's competition. Now, an all-important Finals Day awaits to solidify the region's Top 5 competitors.

Jackson Bunch Seals Challenger Series Spot, Quarterfinals Bound In Rangiroa
The Maui, Hawaii, competitor Jackson Bunch punched through to guarantee himself 500 points and a spot within Hawaii/Tahiti Nui's Top 5.

An important day unfolded for the likes of Jackson Bunch, who sat at No. 3 on the rankings coming into Rangiroa, and the young Maui, Hawaii, competitor rose to the occasion. Bunch delivered two dynamic heat wins in the Round of 32 and Round of 16 to secure a place and into the Quarterfinals, and into the Top 5 to clinch his 2023 Challenger Series spot. The 20-year-old's aggressive backhand attack led him to a guaranteed 500 points as he now awaits his second regional QS Finals Day.

"It was kind of hard, not like what we saw the first couple heats this morning with a lot of barrels, but a little smaller and good for turns," said Bunch. "You have to go big to get the score. This wave is naturally fast and pushes you with the yo-yo effect. The goal is to win, but mainly just want to make some heats and qualify for the Challenger Series."

Mihimana Braye Breaks Through At Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro, Finals Day Ready
The Tahitian Mihimana Braye overpowered his way into the Semifinals after a dominant showing in Round of 32 and Quarterfinal victories.

The day opened with fireworks in the Round of 32, Heat 3 showdown featuring defending event victor Mason Ho, proven QS threats Mihimana Braye and Finn McGill, and emerging threat Luke Tema. The 2020 winner, Ho, showcased his world-class ability in the barrel, garnering a near-perfect 9.00 (out of a possible 10) to get into the heat with McGill and Braye trading off, but Ho's back up put him into a hefty lead before Braye found an excellent, 8.17 as both headed into the Round of 16.

Braye continued to showcase his backhand potential as the waves dropped in size, advancing through the Round of 16 behind a clutch performance from fellow Tahitian Heiarii Williams. With his first Quarterfinal appearance in Rangiroa clutched, Braye then faced an in-form Brodi Sale (HAW) and capitalized on his early opportunities before the ocean went quiet to earn his way in to the Semifinals.

"[The Quarterfinal] heat was a stressful heat actually," said Braye. "The lineup went flat for maybe 20-minutes so I was lucky to get that big score at the start of the heat, and then I just needed to control the heat because I had priority. I feel good, physically, mentally, just have to stay in the zone and do what I've been doing."

Luke Swanson (HAW) Luke Swason - WSL / Abraham Christophe

Joshua Moniz left nothing to chance as he looked to keep his spot among the Challenger Series qualifiers and posted a near-perfect 9.50 in his first-ever Rangiroa heat, but couldn't find that form again in a stout Round of 16 battle featuring an in-form, rising threat Luke Swanson and former event victor Sheldon Paishon. With all the moving pieces on the rankings, Swanson is just out of reach from qualifying for the 2023 Challenger Series, but is already proving he's a force among the Hawaii/Tahiti Nui contenders with a 13.17 heat total victory.

"I've looked up to those guys my whole life, they're a generation older than me so it was a little intimidating, but it was one of those heats where I had nothing to lose," said Swanson. "I love this spot. I've only come here once before in 2020, but I had a few moments that year that were some of my favorite competitive surfing moments in my whole life so I was excited to come back."

Swanson will face Braye's only remaining Tahitian compatriot, Enrique Ariitu, in Quarterfinal, Heat 3 when competition resumes.

Event organizers will reconvene at 7:00 a.m. TAHT for a possible 7:30 a.m. TAHT start.

Tahitians Thrive On Opening Day

Opening day at the World Surf League (WSL) Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro, a men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000, fired into action with beautiful, six-to-seven foot conditions providing moments of critical barrels. But, an unfavorable high tide slowed conditions, ultimately making event organizers call the event off for the day. Competition powered through the Round of 48 and 32, Heats 1 - 2, with Tahitians and familiar faces making their presence known.

Teiva Tairoa Leads Tahitian Charge At Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro
The proven charger Teiva Tairoa showcased his abilities to garner an opening day's best 15.17 heat total as the Tahitians flourished.

Kai Paula capitalized in his Round of 32 debut, posting an excellent 8.17 (out of a possible 10) on the way to a commanding win. But, it was Teiva Tairoa who stole the show earlier in his Round of 48 debut with a commanding, 15.17 (out of a possible 20) heat total. The Tahitian started his heat with a 7.17 before locking into an excellent, 8.00 courtesy of a Rangiroa barrel. Now, he prepares

"I'm really happy to have won my heat," said Tairoa. "I was stressed a lot at first, the waves are here as well as Rangiroa's mana. But, it boosts me and I prepared myself physically but especially mentally for this competition. For the future [heats], I'm relaxed. I want to take advantage of the moment and show what I know how to do."

Enrique Ariitu, Reoccurring Rangiroa Threat Debuts Strong
The three-time event Quarterfinalist Enrique Ariitu returned to the jersey in dominant form, posting a 14.00 heat total.

Tairoa's fellow Tahitian, former event Quarterfinalist (2016, 2017, and 2020), Enrique Ariitu showcased his forehand barrel-riding in great fashion to earn a 7.33 and 14.00 heat total. Ariitu has experienced his share of encounters with the treacherous reef at Rangiroa and recovered in time for his heat following a fall at a local event last week. Now, he's more ready than ever to continue shaking up the proceedings and sets his goals toward another Finals Day appearance at this event.

"I'm happy I managed to catch two nice waves, it's not easy to find them," said Ariitu. "The waves are big so it's necessary to choose them well. [The Tahitians] are all together. We try to motivate ourselves, and we want to win. One of my friend's, who's a local here, mothers treated my wounds [from the event last week] so I'm good to go."

Brodi Sale Delivers Early Spoiler At Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro
The Kona Island, Hawaii, competitor helped eliminate current Hawaii/Tahiti Nui No. 1 Eli Hanneman alongside Tahitian Heirarii Williams.

A brilliant showing from Kona, Hawaii's, Brodi Sale witnessed a Round of 48 victory before taking on current Hawaii/Tahiti Nui No. 1 Eli Hanneman along with Tahitian competitors Heiarii Williams and Kevin Bourez in their Round of 32, Heat 1 clash. Sale's forehand attack earned him a 5.43 and the lead heading into final half of the heat with Hanneman pushed to third-place under Bourez. Hanneman sat with priority until the dying minutes and did not convert the opportunity as Sale and Williams made their way into the Round of 16.

"It was kind of tough in that [Round of 32] heat, I got my two fives and then it slowed down," said Sale. "There wasn't much other than that and I just managed the end of that heat. I'm stoked to win and keep going. My goal is to win this competition. I can't really qualify for the Challenger Series even if I did win so I'm just hoping to get a few barrels, put on a good show, and live in the moment."

Also earning wins on opening day, Mihimana Braye, 2020 event Semifinalist Tereva David, Manakei Kahiha, and North Shore, Oahu's, Luke Swanson all advanced into the Round of 32.

Event organizers will reconvene at 7:00 a.m. TAHT to determine a possible 8:00 a.m. TAHT start for Round of 32, Heat 3.

Watch LIVE The Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro will open on March 6 and hold a competition window through March 10, 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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