Jackson Bunch Wins Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro, Claims Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Regional Title
Jackson Bunch (HAW) 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 (FRA).
This marked the end of Hawaii/Tahiti Nui’s 2022/23’ season and Challenger Series competitors are finalized after Bunch’s massive win.
Pictured: Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Finalists Jackson Bunch (HAW) (L) and Mihimana Braye (FRA) (R) separated themselves from the field. Credit: © WSL / Christophe
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.”
Pictured: Jackson Bunch's (HAW) relentless backhand was unstoppable on Finals Day. Credit: © WSL / Christophe
A massive day for Bunch started in a Quarterfinal clash with Challenger Series hopeful Sheldon Paishon (HAW), 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 (HAW) into needing a near-perfect 9.54.
Now, The Paia, Maui, competitor turns his focus to the 2023 Challenger Series.
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 (HAW), 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.
Luke Swanson (HAW) notched a career-best Semifinal appearance. Credit: © WSL / Christophe
Kai Paul (HAW) surfed his way straight into the Semifinals, and onto the 2023 Challenger Series. Credit: © WSL / Christophe
Notable Finishes For Luke Swason and Kai Paula With Semifinal Appearances
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.
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 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
6. Sheldon Paishon (HAW) 1,240 points
7. Kai Martin (HAW) 1,150 points
Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Final Results:
1 - Jackson Bunch (HAW) 16.43 1,000 points
2 - Mihimana Braye (FRA) 13.60
Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Semifinal Results:
Heat 1: Mihimana Braye (FRA) 13.17 DEF. Kai Paula (HAW) 12.90
Heat 2: Jackson Bunch (HAW) 15.24 DEF. Luke Swanson (HAW) 10.87
Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Quarterfinal Results:
Heat 1: Mihimana Braye (FRA) 13.10 DEF. Brodi Sale (HAW) 12.46
Heat 2: Kai Paula (HAW) 11.83 DEF. Heiarii Williams (PYF) 0.00
Heat 3: Luke Swanson (HAW) 12.50 DEF. Enrique Ariito (PYF) 10.16
Heat 4: Jackson Bunch (HAW) 13.10 DEF. Sheldon Paishon (HAW) 8.83