Moving day at the World Surf League (WSL) Barbados Surf Pro, a men’s and women’s Qualifying Series (QS) 5,000, and Live Like Zander Junior Pro presented by Diamonds International In Loving Memory of Zander Venezia decided nearly all of North America's Challenger Series (CS) representatives.
Two-to-four foot windswell tested competitors as the men's junior Quarterfinals, men's and women's QS Quarterfinals all finished in their entirety.
Now, only one Challenger Series spot remains for the women with all the men locked in and a battle for North America's No. 1, as well as Top 2 juniors, remain for Finals Day.
Kicking off the men’s Quarterfinals bouts, Jabe Swierkocki (USA) took on Challenger Series hopeful Nolan Rapoza (USA) in a nail-biting affair that went down to the final horn. With Rapoza’s efforts falling just short, Swierkocki secured himself into the Top 7 as he moved forward into a big Finals Day. But, it was Barbados’ own Josh Burke (BRB) who needed to make his way into the Semifinals to keep his Challenger Series hopes intact and did so against No. 2 Evan Geisleman (USA).
Pictured: 2022 Challenger Series contender Zoe Benedetto's (USA) near-perfect 9.00 solidified herself into the Semifinals and a spot back into the Challenger Series alongside some of North America's best. Credit: © WSL / Harris
The beach came to life with every maneuver of Burke’s as he built his foundation before unleashing his signature forehand power on a Soup Bowl gem to garner a 7.17. Geiselman had one last opportunity in the dying minutes and the wav didn’t provide him them canvas to attack as Burke moved into the Semifinals.
“Every heat is important so every heat is the same to me and now I’m just focusing on the Semifinals,” said Burke. “Hope the momentum keeps going up and that’s all I’m manifesting is two waves to come to me so I can surf to my ability. That wave felt good and I almost didn’t go to be honest. I almost just held first priority because there weren’t very many waves and I would just hold him off the rest of the heat, but I’m very happy to make that decision."
Helping secure Burke’s place into the Challenger Series was Crosby Colapinto (USA) with an excellent 8.33 over the last remaining qualification hopeful Sam Coffey (USA).
For Colapinto, this marks another step forward in his young career after narrowly missing out on the Challenger Series in 2022 and overpowered his way into the Top 7 with a brilliant season as he eyes down a second-career QS win on Finals Day.
“It feels great to be into Finals Day and I'm just staying present for every heat, every wave,” said Colapinto. “My goal was to get to the Quarterfinals which I thought would be enough so to make the Challenger Series after just missing it last year is amazing. I'd love to take this thing out and finish strong here.”
Colapinto’s fellow San Clemente, California, competitors Jett Schilling (USA) and Cole Houshmand (USA) battled for the last Semifinal spot as Schilling continued his tear through Soup Bowl as he enters Finals Day in both divisions to battle for the No. 1 spot on both of North America’s rankings.
A jaw-dropping performance from Zoe Benedetto (USA) earned a near-perfect 9.00 (out of a possible 10) and 15.83 (out of a possible 20) heat total over Challenger Series hopeful Havanna Cabrero (PUR).
Currently sitting at No. 3, Benedetto confirmed her position back into the Challenger Series where she will return to compete against some of the world’s elite competitors in hopes of qualifying for the Championship Tour (CT). But, the Floridian’s mindset is still focused on a big finish here at Soup Bowl.
“It was my goal to make it into Finals Day, especially being a QS 5,000 I wanted to do good,” said Benedetto. “You definitely feel the stress so now just being relaxed and having fun, I feel like I can exhale now that I've secured my spot. After Santa Cruz I talked to my family about what I wanted to do and I thought it was going to be a 3,000 so I wanted to win, but now that it's a 5,000 I really want to win. All the girls are just so good that anyone can win so it's great to push my surfing.”
Current No. 1 Sawyer Lindblad (USA) solidified herself within the Top 4 as she heads into Finals Day after a commanding Quarterfinal performance over event threat Lilie Kulber (USA). Lindblad’s incredible 2022/23’ season notched her two QS victories, including a major win at the Nissan Super Girl Surf Pro QS 3,000, as she looks to add one more win to her resume in the North America QS season conclusion.
“I’m just really happy that I finally solidified it, it’s been such a long year and missing [Challenger Series] requalification in Haleiwa by one spot stings,” said Lindblad. “But, it all went down for a reason and I’m happy to get some good practice at these regional events. I actually haven’t won a QS outside California so that’s an interesting fact and I really want to make that fact go away.”
Ella McCaffray (USA) kept her Challenger Series qualification hopes alive and well with a defining, Quarterfinal victory over fellow in-the-hunt competitor Noah Klapp (DEU) as she will have to face off against current No. 2 Bella Kenworthy (USA) in a Semifinal clash. Kenworthy’s second-half heat comeback keeps her hunt for a possible North America QS Regional Title intact heading into Finals Day. A decisive Finals day awaits the men and women Pro Juniors after the men’s Quarterfinals finished with Lucas Owston (USA) and Owen Moss (USA) leading the charge.
Owston’s impeccable timing, mixed with his maturing power, led to an impressive 14.00 heat total as he looks for his first-ever WSL Finals appearance after posting a near-excellent 7.83. The Oceanside, California, competitor’s forehand attack continues to turn heads as he looks to make his presence known moving into Finals Day and beyond with Levi Slawson (USA) advancing behind him.
“I wasn’t even going to go on that wave in the first place but then I saw it grow down the end so I had to go,” said Owston. “I kind of just go about my heat and know that if I put myself on good waves I’m going to make it. This is my first Finals Day so I’m just learning as the process goes on and just really thankful.”
The East Coast’s Owen Moss (USA) matched Owston’s 14.00 with a powerful forehand all his own. Moss’ season has witnessed the ups and downs, particularly on the QS, as he looks to finish the 2023 Pro Junior season strong. Also, Dane Matson (USA) and Wheeler Hasburgh (CAN) powered their way into the Semifinals and a big Finals Day conclusion for the 2023 Pro Junior season.
Event organizers will reconvene at 7:30 a.m. EDT for a possible 8:00 a.m. EDT start to Finals Day.