Opening day at the Vans Presents the HIC Pro saw massive waves coupled with the homecoming of world champ John John Florence at Sunset Beach. The North Shore was abuzz with his anticipated arrival which coincided with one of the biggest swells of the season. It was a classic kick-off for the World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 3,000 event, the official local qualifying competition for the Vans Triple Crown.
Florence did a drive by of the HIC Pro event site as his final stop of a celebratory homecoming that included his alma mater Sunset Elementary School. He stuck around to watch brother Nathan Florence compete in Round Two. While Nathan's campaign was cut short, top names like Sunny Garcia, Evan Valiere and Makuakai Rothman got one step closer to the podium and a sought-after slot into the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
Garcia's power-surfing bode well for him in the solid 12-plus-foot conditions as he and heat winner Gavin Gillette (HAW) traded waves, but Kauai's Gillette proved to be more in form after he secured the second highest wave score of the day, an 8.17. The mid-to-high-range scores throughout the day proved to be the difference in today's challenging surf.
"In these conditions I really feel like I can win," said Garcia. "It's just a matter of going out and getting the best waves and surfing the best I can. But having said that, watching all these young kids, they have really stepped up their big-wave surfing, so I'm going to enjoy surfing my last couple events and be around watching and coaching."
Kauai was represented well today as Valiere, Alex Smith and Dylan Goodale also advanced in first place to compete again in Round Three. Valiere tied Gillette for the second best wave score of the day, an 8.17, with critical positioning on a set wave. Also advancing in second place was Kekoa Cazimero of Honolulu, who bested Australian Saxon Lumsden and Hawaiian Schuyler Allen.
"I've been coming here since I was 15, every year, I love it here," said David. "Everything is cool here, close to the beach, big waves and good friends, good surfboards and big competition. Been coming here every year and I love it."
Finn McGill, the youngest competitor in the HIC Pro, dropped the highest single-wave score, a 9.4, and combined heat total, 17.40.
"The wave just came to me, I had first priority," said McGill about the 9.4 ride. "Everything just happened correctly and then I took off and knew it was going to be a gem. Turned out it was."
McGill, 16, grew up surfing Sunset and has been taught and supported by some of the industry's best. He is working this season to qualify for the Vans Triple Crown, where he will be the youngest surfer in the series.
"My tactic right now is just to have fun," continued McGill. "This is my home break, I'm surfing against all my heroes so I'm just trying to have fun and hopefully make a couple rounds and maybe make Triple Crown and then get to surf out here again, get to surf Haleiwa, and maybe Pipe."
Another standout junior, Hawaiian Noa Mizuno, advanced from Round 2 to continue his victorious winter campaign after placing first in the final Junior QS event of the season, the Turtle Bay Resort Pro Junior, and earning a spot in the World Junior Championship in Australia this January. Mizuno also holds the Regional WSL Hawaii Junior Champion title and will be focusing his full-time attention on competitive surfing once he graduates from Punahou School next year.
Surfline, official surf forecasters, predict 8-12-foot waves tomorrow, as the old pulse of NNW swell fades and a fresh NNW energy pushes into the lineup, with occasional bigger sets for standouts over the afternoon. Contest organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning and make a call by 7 a.m.