The World Surf League (WSL) Ron Jon Vans Pro and Junior Pro event window opens tomorrow, Thursday, March 10, as the Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1000 Round of 80 and Round of 64 are scheduled to run. In coordination with the Beach ‘N Boards Fest, the inaugural Men's QS1000 will provide a showcase of high-performance surfing from some of the region's elite throughout the week alongside the fourth annual Junior Pro event.
Reigning North American Men's QS Champion Brian Toth (PRI) is coming into this event with a lot of energy and ready to take on what Cocoa Beach has to offer. Competing in the opening Hawaiian leg of the 2016 QS season, Toth suffered an injury that he's been recovering from since but has come to Shepard Park in prime health.
"This is my first time competing in Cocoa so I'm super stoked to be here," Toth said. "I had a little bit of a shocker in Hawaii and didn't go to Australia because I've just been back home catching those swells and getting some really good waves. I've been in the water a lot and back up to 100 percent after I tore my shoulder at Sunset, but coming into this event I'm feeling really strong and confident."
The Puerto Rican earned two runner-ups during the 2015 East Coast leg of the QS tour and helped solidify his spot atop the regional rankings. Keeping that in his strategy, Toth has his year shaping up with entries into the QS10000 events that he will begin to build momentum for here in Cocoa.
"I stepped back after getting the wildcard into the 10000s and I'm starting to narrow down what events I want to do coming out of this event and what's next," Toth said. "I want to keep focused on the events that I know I'll do well in and I'm always confident to come to the East Coast and compete. But, for the rest of year I'm just waiting for calls into the 10,000 events and hopefully I can put my wildcard entries to use."
Coming into the Ron Jon Vans Junior Pro from Long Beach, Calif., Nolan Rapoza (USA) hasn't surfed in this event before but is prepared for the challenge. The 18-year-old will make his debut in Round 2 and has his eyes set on big results in Cocoa Beach. Finishing in the No.10 spot on the North America Pro Junior Rankings, Rapoza would like to better that and begin making his presence known on the Pro Junior Tour.
"Last year I did not make it to Cocoa Beach unfortunately as I was in Hawaii putting in a lot of time there," Rapoza said. "I'm looking forward to coming to Cocoa Beach. I heard the people are friendly and I hear this event is a lot of fun. I'm excited and it will be great to compete there and also, I get to experience Cocoa Beach for my first time."
This is Rapoza's last year on the Junior Tour and he is planning on making the most of each event he competes in with big ambitions on the horizon.
"My goal this year is to win Cocoa Beach and to win the North American Junior Tour," Rapoza added. "Qualifying to the Junior World Championships and doing well in the that event will help me get a better seed in the Qualifying Series. My top goal is to be on the WSL Championship Tour (CT). It's important for me to do well on the Junior level and I know this is a part of my journey to the CT."
Meah Collins (USA) is coming into this event with a lot of steam, earning a second-place result at the Sunset Junior Pro in Hawaii. The Huntington Beach native is looking forward to her return here in Cocoa after a successful event last year.
"I always love going to Coco Beach," Collins said. "There's such a great vibe down there and all the people are super friendly. I got one of the best waves in the comp during my Semifinal, but couldn't find anything in the finals and ended up getting fourth. I'm really hoping to do well in this event. After getting a third at the Shoe City QS and then second in the Pro Junior at Sunset, it would be awesome to take the win here."
With winning on her mind, Collins has her strategy set to do so and make the podium once more. She is set on her goal of taking down a North America Pro Junior title and knows that every event counts.
"With Cocoa Beach being a beach break with such an open field, I'm going to focus on making sure I choose the right waves because I definitely feel like I can improve on wave selection," Collins said. "Both the Pro Juniors and QS events are so important as they give me the opportunity to compete against the best girls in my region and the world. I'm thankful that the WSL and sponsors put on the events in all kinds of venues so I can have the chance to experience different breaks around the world."
The Ron Jon Vans Pro will begin tomorrow morning with a 7:30am Call for an 8:00am Start with the Men's QS1000 event. For a tentative schedule and more information, go to beachnboardsfest.com.