Incredible Sunset beach surf with wave face heights of 15-to-20 feet provided the canvas for career-best performances at the WSL Hawaii's Sunset Open Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000 event. Parker Coffin (USA) dropped the highest single-wave score of the competition, a 9.75 for the longest, deepest barrel of the day on his backhand. In a post-heat interview, he touted it as the best wave he's ever had at Sunset.
"I've pretty much never surfed it like that, let alone in a heat, so that was as good as it gets for me," said Coffin. "That's why we all come and do these events." He has spent many seasons on the North Shore competing in the Pro Junior circuit along with the HIC Pro QS3,000, but this is Coffin's first heat at Sunset in "two, maybe even three years," he continued. "That was a good welcome back, I love it out here, it's one of my favorite waves."
The 112-man field was whittled down to just 38 surfers today as the Sunset Open heated up and competitors braved the 15-to-20-foot wave faces. Up for grabs are 1,000 points toward athletes' regional ratings, prize money and the glory of winning at one of the most notorious big-wave venues in the world.
The second-best wave score of the event went to Maui's celebrated waterman Kai Lenny for a 9.5 that featured a combination of outside turns, an open barrel and more carves on the inside. Lenny rode a bigger board, which allowed him to draw out bigger lines and paddle around the lineup with ease.
"I was out the back and there was no priority yet and I kind of just wandered into a really good wave," Lenny said. "Out there it's hard to read what the wave is going to do on the inside. I just saw it was pushing down the reef really good and it was hooking onto it, so I was thinking I would get a good turn and then I was going to do one more turn directly thereafter, but then it just set up for a little barrel."
This is Lenny's first Qualifying Series event of his career, but he's no stranger to success here in Hawaii. In 2015, he won the Sunset Beach Pro SUP event at Sunset, the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout SUP division at Pipeline, and became the SUP World Series Champion at Turtle Bay. In 2016, he set a new world record at the Molokai-2-Oahu paddle race.
"Right now I'm just enjoying doing events because I think it's good for me to test my surfing against some of the best," continued Lenny. "And also hopefully to get into the Triple Crown and go from there, but I just love competing in general so I'm not putting too much pressure on anything yet."
Current Hawaii Regional Champ and North Shore local Eli Olson nabbed another 9-point ride for a huge barrel that he caught from the outside. One of the judges gave the ride a 10, but the consensus settled on an excellent 9.4.
"It was a really fun one," said Olson in a post heat interview. "I kind of saw it forming up so I knew it was going to be a good one, and the rest of the guys were a little too far out, so I just whipped it. A lot of the waves are closing so I was lucky it stayed open for me, I just kind of knifed the drop and it stayed open."
Defending event winner Keoni Yan (HAW) nipped at Olson's heels and ultimately advanced into Round Four as well.
"It was pretty hard out there for me today, because I couldn't get the right waves," said Yan. "I just hope in the next heats I'll do better… It's Sunset, you can lose any time. I'm just going to take it heat by heat and hopefully take the win again."
Western Australia's 19-year-old phenom Jack Robinson lived up to his barrel-hunting reputation by finding the first tubes of the early morning heats. The judges awarded his two quick cover-ups with a 7.75, which saw him take the lead after scoring a 6.0 on his opening ride of the heat. Known for his ability at Sunset when conditions get big, Robinson took second place at the HIC Pro in October 2016, fourth place in 2015 and a win at the Pro Junior in 2014.
"It was pretty challenging," he said. "Just kind of bumpy, like raw Sunset, pretty gnarly. I tried to find a few and ended up coming through."
Recent Sunset Pro Junior winner Barron Mamiya advanced from Round Two behind his Hurley coach and mentor Joel Centeio. The two battled back and forth for the first advancing position, but Centeio stamped out an 11.10 two-wave total over his student and took the heat win.
"It was pretty funny," said Mamiya. "I was kind of joking around because I saw that if I won my first heat I would be in his heat, so I was like, ‘oh, we're going to be in the same heat dude.' And then, yeah, we were in the same heat, so it's cool, it was sick."
The remaining Tahitian left in the competition is Taumata Puhetini, who stayed busy in the 25-minute heat and secured two mid-range scores, a 5.25 and 5.35, which was enough to advance in second behind Kauai's Kaimana Jaquias and see him head into Round Four.
"It's really good to surf here," said Puhetini. "The conditions are really big and powerful, almost like in Tahiti, so it's really good."