The World Surf League (WSL) SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach, a Qualifying Series (QS) 3,000 and Pro Junior, kicked off opening day proceedings in solid, three-to-five foot swell that provided a platform for pro junior contenders to put on a showcase.
Men’s Round of 48 and 32, alongside women’s Round of 32, ran in their entirety to set up respective, Quarterfinal draws with some of North America’s premier rising talents taking control.
The men's and women's QS competitions were called OFF today with a likely start tomorrow, Tuesday, January 24.
Pictured: Reigning North America Pro Junior No. 1, and 2022 QS event runner-up, Sawyer Lindblad (USA) returned in winning form. Credit: © WSL / Nichols
Returning to competition, Lilie Kulber (USA) started off a with a statement-making debut in the Round of 32 with an excellent 8.00 (out of a possible 10) and 15.50 (out of a possible 20) heat total. The Laguna Beach, California, competitor’s forehand went unmatched in the opening day proceedings as she now looks to keep that momentum alive moving forward.
“This is definitely the best Pismo I’ve ever surfed,” said Kulber. “It felt like I was free-surfing for a bit and just wanted that heat to last longer. I’m super happy to be here and to be surfing in this contest.”
Pictured: Ella McCaffaray (USA) delivered a big performance of her own to kickstart her 2023 Pro Junior campaign. Credit: © WSL / Nichols
Ella McCaffray (USA) headed into this event fresh off an appearance at the World Junior Championships in her hometown and brought that confidence to Pismo Beach. The 19-year-old’s forehand attack put her opponents into a combination situation, meaning they needed two new scores to equal McCaffray’s, within the first few minutes of the battle. McCaffray’s 14.50 heat total, including an excellent 8.17, held firm heading into the final horn for a big, debut win.
“I was stoked to get a couple fun ones out here, it’s super rippable and I’m looking forward to the next round,” said McCaffray. “Its a similar beach break and if you get one with a wall you can go after it. Now it’s just bringing my best surfing, putting more power into my turns and more combinations.”
Also notching notable Round of 32 heat wins, 2022 North America No. 1 Sawyer Lindblad (USA) joins Keanna Miller (USA), Noah Klapp (DEU), Sanoa Dempfle-Olin (CAN), Keanna Miller (USA), and Vela Mattive (USA) into the Quarterfinals. Florida’s rising talent Ryan Huckabee continues to impress with his combination of power and progression, earning a 13.87 heat total in the process of his Round of 32 debut. The now 19-year-old still has two years in his Pro Junior career and started the 2023 season in dominant fashion after overcoming injuries.
“It was so different than it was yesterday at this time, but you just have to adapt and get it done,” said Huckabee. “It looks like there's some swell the next few days so I'm stoked. I was hurt pretty much of all of last year so this is my first full year where I'm completely healthy."
Pictured: San Clemente, California's, deep talent pool is back with Jett Schilling leading the charge. Credit: © WSL / Nichols
Recent SAMBAZON World Junior Championships wildcard Jett Schilling (USA) heads into his final Pro Junior season and started off in formidable fashion, accruing a 13.27 heat total. The San Clemente, California, competitor showcased flair and progression on his backhand with fellow San Clemente surfer Cannon Carr (USA) advancing into the Quarterfinals.
“Seaside Reef was unfortunate for me and I just didn't get the right waves, and was too patient so today I just went out and wanted to get a bunch of waves,” said Schilling. “Some little running lefts and it was fun to get a couple good scores. It'd mean a lot to win this event and just get back to the podium, but it should be a great year."
Also into big Quarterfinal appearances, back-to-back wins for Wheeler Hasburgh (CAN), Reed Plantenius (CAN), Dane Matson (USA), Trevor Barry (USA) join top-seeded competitors such as Reiki Nishida (USA) and Ben Brantell (USA). Hasburgh's heat wins included an excellent score in both heats, including a day's best 8.17 against an in-form Levi Slawson (USA), also advancing, and now looks to continue his tear through this event and the QS alongside his Pro Junior contingent.
"I used to see gnarly people in my heat [like Levi Slawson] and I would get super nervous so I'm really just focusing on why I really love to surf which is how I persevere," said Hasburgh. "That was such a great day and I'm just having the most fun, and dropping high scores while having fun. It's the right mindset I want to be in."
Event organizers will convene at 7:00 a.m. PST to determine a possible 7:30 a.m. PST start to competition.