Top seeds took over proceedings at the World Surf League (WSL) Jack’s Surfboards Pro presented by Hydro Flask, a men’s and women’s Qualifying Series (QS) 3,000, in their respective debuts at the Huntington Beach Pier arena.
Pictured: Leilani McGonagle (CRC) finished the season just within the Top 4 and is looking to make the task easier this season with a big start to the 2023/24' year. Credit: © WSL / Nichols
The men's Round of 64 and women's Round of 32, Heats 1 - 4 finished in their entirety before event organizers called competition off for the day with stunning performances in the two-to-three foot conditions on offer.
Recently confirmed 2023 Challenger Series competitor Leilani McGonagle (CRC) found a pair of running lefthanders that made the Costa Rican look right at home as she overpowered them for an impressive 13.00 (out of a possible 20) heat total.
McGonagle’s nail-biting finish to the 2022/23’ season is now behind her as she sets her focus on the horizon ahead and getting the job done here in Huntington Beach before embarking on her journey toward Championship Tour (CT) qualification.
“I'm super excited, I feel like in Barbados I wasn't doing my best surfing,” said McGonagle. “I got eaten up by all the pressure that came with Challenger Series qualification and now that I'm clear of that I want to put down some good heat totals. I want to start this year with my right foot forward and hopefully have a more solid base heading into the back half of this year.”
Narrowly missing the Top 4 last season, Ella McCaffray (USA) kicked off a new year in the right direction with a stunning 7.40 (out of a possible 10) in tough, afternoon conditions. McCaffray’s standard of success grows with each new year and, after a career-best No. 5 finish on the North America rankings, looks to continue her growth within the jersey while trying to find her way back into a QS Final.
“It's a huge confidence booster to start with a heat win,” said McCaffray. “I finished fifth in the rankings this last season and less than a week later we're back for the start of another season. Last year was my best finish on the rankings and now I'm just looking to get to know my equipment more, learn the waves more, and hopefully make a Final or two this year.”
Also notching impressive heat wins, Havanna Cabrero (PUR) and defending event winner, and reigning North America QS Regional Champion Saywer Lindblad (USA), moved into the Round of 16 as the final top seeds await their start.One of 2022/23’s breakthrough competitors, Jett Schilling (USA), returned to the jersey and flourished in his debut with an excellent 16.10 heat total.
Schilling’s impeccable timing on his backhand attack led to an excellent 8.33 before closing out the heat with another Huntington Beach gem for a 7.77. Now, the San Clemente, California, competitor looks for more heading into the weekend.
“It feels insane to start like that,” said Schilling. “I'm just stoked to be here and have another contest, get straight back into it. I'm just very grateful and psyched to surf a contest close to home. This event is super important with 3,000 points and can set you up for the upcoming events so I'm stoked."
Straight off the biggest win of his young career, Crosby Colapinto (USA) carried that momentum into his Round of 64 debut with an excellent 8.50 and 15.33 heat total.
Colapinto’s signature forehand power and style were on full display, picking apart the Huntington Beach lineup with ease as Venezuela’s Rafael Pereira earned an advancing position. Just one of San Clemente’s emerging talent pool, Colapinto leads the crew of North America’s top threats out of the beach town.
“It’s pretty epic coming off a win from Barbados and trying to keep the same kind of strategy going into every heat,” said Colapinto. “Just trying to be on the best wave and do my best surfing. We started this ‘2 Percent’ group and it’s brought the whole of San Clemente age group together, and we have a great supportive group pushing each other so it’s pretty epic.”
Part of that San Clemente talent pool, Kade Matson also dropped an excellent 8.17 alongside Cole Houshmand earning debut heat wins. An all-or-nothing performance at his home break of Soup Bowl, Barbados, for Josh Burke (BRB) earned him the coveted Challenger Series spot and the Barbadian brought that confidence to Huntington Beach.
Burke’s dominant forehand attack accrued a 14.67 heat total in his debut as he prepares for a season among the world’s next contenders, but sets his eyes on the task at hand and also a chance at repeating as Hydro Flask Airshow presented by Fu Wax victor.
“The two waves came to me and I didn’t fall on the two waves I wanted, and I tried to land an air so I could be in the airshow Final again, but maybe next heat (laughs),” said Burke. “I’ll try to be in both Finals this year. I’m still in the competitive mode. I tried to get out of it for three days when I was at home and wish there was more time of a break after the stress of the last month, but I’m here to win, this is my vacation contest so we’ll see how it goes.”
Local hero Sage Guinaldo (USA) made his long-awaited return to the jersey on opening day and backed up that performance with a brilliant showing over top-seeded competitors Alan Cleland (MEX), also advancing, and Wheeler Hasburgh (CAN). Also notching clutch Round of 64 victories, fellow local standout Keanu Igarashi’s (USA) last-minute antics earned him a spot into the Round of 32 alongside top-seeded competitors Jabe Swierkocki (USA), Tyler Gunter (USA), Ryland Rubens (USA), Dimitri Poulos (USA), Taj Lindblad (USA), Sam Coffey (USA), and more all claiming debut heat wins.
Event organizers will reconvene at 7:30 a.m. PDT for a likely 8:00 a.m. PDT start.
The Jack's Surfboards Pro presented by Hydro Flask will open on April 6 and hold a competition window through April 9, 2023. Once called ON, the event will be broadcast LIVE on WorldSurfLeague.com, WSL’s YouTube channel, and the free WSL app.About the WSL
The World Surf League (WSL) is the global home of competitive surfing, crowning the undisputed World Champions since 1976 and showcasing the world’s best surfers on the world’s best waves. WSL is comprised of the Tours and Competition division, which oversees and operates more than 180 global competitions each year; WSL WaveCo, home of the world's largest high-performance, human-made wave; and WSL Studios, an independent producer of unscripted and scripted projects.
About Jack's Surfboards
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