PISMO BEACH, Calif., USA (Thursday, January 26, 2023) - Some of North America’s top-tier competitors took control of proceedings at the World Surf League (WSL) SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach, a Qualifying Series (QS) 3,000 and Pro Junior.
Pictured: Former event victor Kirra Pinkerton (USA) unleashed the first excellent score in the women's QS. Credit: © WSL / Nichols
Three-to-four foot swell provided magic moments for the women’s QS Round of 48 and 32 as top seeds shined in their debuts following the conclusion of men’s Round of 64. Now, the men’s Round of 32 is locked in alongside the women’s head-to-head, Round of 16 draw solidified.
Kirra Pinkerton (USA) earned the inaugural women’s QS event win in 2018 and has since become a Championship Tour (CT) qualification threat. The now 20-year-old showed that experience and her signature power to start her campaign, earning a day’s best 15.50 (out of a possible 20) heat total and single-wave score of an 8.00 (out of a possible 10), as she continues building her long-standing relationship with Pismo Beach.
“I grew up doing events here so to know the QS events I'm going to are places I've trained a lot growing up is very comfortable,” said Pinkerton. “I didn't know I was the first woman to win the Pismo event [back in 2018] and it was my first QS win so it's all pretty special.”
At age 14, Sawyer Lindblad (USA) earned her first-ever QS victory here in Pismo Beach and, after earning runner-up in 2022, is looking for another win. The San Clemente, California, standout posted a commanding 13.27 heat total to overtake former CT star Sage Erickson (USA), also advancing, and moved into the Round of 16 with ease.
“It's definitely a very special place for me here, [my family] loves coming up to the Central Coast,” said Lindblad. “This year it's a QS 3,000 so there's way more points which is exciting. I like this wave when it's a little bit smaller because there's not as many closeouts and you have more opportunity.”
Pictured: Costa Rica's leading threat on the QS looks for her breakthrough result and started with a big heat win. Credit: © WSL / Nichols
Leilani McGonagle (CRI) is on the hunt for a Challenger Series spot and debuted in commanding form on her powerful forehand. The 23-year-old overpowered decorated QS competitor Samantha Sibley (USA), also advancing, as the two traded off on solid waves to separate themselves. But, the Costa Rican has more than a Round of 16 appearance in her goals as she looks for a breakthrough result to earn valuable points.
“I’m so stoked to be here and I’m with a great crew of Costa Ricans, as well as my grandparents and it’s really nice to have them in my corner,” said McGonagle. “There’s more Latin representatives on the North America circuit so it’s really nice to have that comradery. I just wanted to get two quick waves and I knew it once I got those two I wouldn’t be panicking.”
Pictured: Last year's event runner-up Levi Slawson (USA) returned in impressive form. Credit: © WSL / Nichols
Stacked Men’s Round of 32 Draw Solidified
Before women’s competition took center stage, the men’s Round of 64 concluded with the remaining top seeds holding firm in their respective debuts.
Recent SAMBAZON World Junior Championships runner-up, and 2022 SLO CAL Open Pismo Beach runner-up, Levi Slawson (USA) found the gem of the morning for a 7.00 as he powered his way to the Round of 32 alongside an in-form Owen Moss (USA). Slawson has his eyes set on another big result here to help kickstart his campaign toward the Challenger Series.
“That was an amazing week in Seaside at home and gave me that confidence for here, and it’s about consistency for me right now,” said Slawson. “I know my surfing is there, it’s just about bringing it into events. In the early heats I’m usually stiff and slow so I wanted to bring more energy into so I’m glad it worked out.”
Also, noteworthy debuts from QS veteran and one of North America’s top competitors, Evan Geiselman (USA), as well as San Clemente’s Taj Lindblad resulted with momentum building, Round of 64 wins.
Event organizers will convene at 7:00 a.m. PST for a likely 7:30 a.m. PST start to competition.