The World Surf League (WSL) Men's Qualification Series (QS) O'Neill Coldwater Classic saw the remaining thirteen heats of Round 2 completed before contest organizers placed the event on standby for the afternoon, in anticipation of a new swell for tomorrow. With three-to-four foot surf and clean conditions on offer, Steamer Lane produced plenty of scoring potential throughout the day and the locals took full advantage alongside top seeds making their debuts.
Representing Santa Cruz in great fashion, Shaun Burns (USA) took the heat win ahead of defending champion Nate Yeomans (USA), as he claimed the day's highest heat total with a 15.34 (out of a possible 20). The event wildcard bashed an 8.67 (out of a possible 10) on an impeccable Steamer Lane set wave, going vertical multiple times and earning a spot into Round 3.
"A lot more than anything I just wanted to make my first heat and it feels really good to get in the water and also get those first couple of waves under your belt," Burns said. "It was just one of those classic waves at the Lane and took off into a couple snaps. When you can have fun out there you can get your best scores and when the waves are great like this it's easy to have a good time - it just kind of flows."
A fellow Californian hailing from Dana Point, CA, Josh Benjoya (USA) found a sizable set wave and held no reserve as he posted the day's highest single-wave score, 8.77. The 19-year-old knows what this event means to his career and is looking for a big result in Santa Cruz.
"I really need this result for next year since this is the last competition I can do in 2015," Benjoya said. "I didn't get into the HIC Pro in Hawaii so this is it for me. I just wanted to give it everything and I'm super stoked to make it through even though I was really nervous, especially against Timmy [Reyes]. After I got that first wave I felt in rhythm. I just wanted to stay calm and get the first turn then try and improve throughout the wave."
Benjoya is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when wanting to make a dream a reality. Surfing from a young age, and with the WSL Pro Junior series dropping the maximum age 18 next year, he knows what must be done on the QS now and that has led him to a Round 3 appearance here at the O'Neill Coldwater Classic.
"I grew up doing NSSA and Surfing America competitions," Benjoya said. "I did some of the juniors last year then just needed to step up with the age limit going down. You have to get out and see what you can do against the big boys."
Ripping far from home here at the shores of Santa Cruz, Hawaiian Keoni Yan (HAW) looked like he's been surfing Steamer Lane his entire life. Holding onto priority and using it brilliantly, Yan paddled into a beautiful wall that lined up perfectly for him - surfing with plenty of flow and power to earn an 8.60.
"It was pretty slow out there but I had first priority and when that set came through I knew it would be a bomb," Yan said. "I just tried not to over surf because it was a massive opportunity and I just needed to make it happen."
The 20-year-old has been learning the ropes at the prestigious right-hand point break, gaining knowledge from local legends and putting that to great use already.
"This is my first time here and I've been cruising with Kyle Thiermann and Skindog," Yan said. "They've been great with local knowledge and helping me out here to get psyched so I'm lucky. In the freesurf sessions I wouldn't get a wave for an hour but I just waited my turn and made it count when I had a chance. It's bouncy sometimes depending on the tide and when you cut back into the whitewash it can throw you the other way - it's hard but a really fun wave."
Continuing a remarkable run from yesterday's highlight reel performance, Bud Freitas (USA) is into Round 3 and looking like a man possessed in his home waters. Winning all four heats thus far, the Santa Cruz veteran has big aspirations that are shaping up to become a reality.
"I had a great time yesterday and now it's getting more fun because everyone gets to take their time and select their waves," Freitas said. "Positioning gets a lot better and you're not getting stuck somewhere weird way off the bowl - it's actually really fun so I was stoked. I would honestly love to win this event. It would just be a dream come true but at this point I'm stoked with whatever happens. I've already made it way further than I thought."
Finals Day action begins at 7:30 a.m. PST with a morning show at 7:15 a.m. on http://us.oneill.com/cwc/. Tune in to see if this year's local standouts can claim the O'Neill Coldwater Classic title for their hometown.