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Juniors no more: Team Hawaii champs get early jump on QS rankings

Chinese New Year is still about a month away, but the World Surf League got its new year started this week with the Hainan Pro at China’s Riyue Bay. Two of the final four surfers in the stacked competition were former World Junior Championships gold medalists for Team Hawaii, including Kauai’s Tatiana Weston-Webb. But she and Oahu’s Mahina Maeda are showing that their successes will not be limited to the junior ranks as Maeda took home the title and Tati grabbed an Equal Third.

At just 16 years old, Maeda has been outperforming her peers over the past few years and now holds the early lead for a chance to qualify for next year’s women’s World Championship Tour. The victory gives her 6,000 rankings points and $8,000 to start the season. She had quite a road to the title, winning all six of her heats and ultimately taking down former world tour competitor Paige Hareb in a close final, 16.73 to 16.33. Hareb needed an 8.24 to move ahead for the win, but her last wave came up just short, netting a 7.73 from the judges. It was Maeda’s first ever QS title, though she came close last season, losing the final at the 6-Star Swatch Girls Pro France to Nikki Van Dijk.

Tati’s first event of the year came to an end in the semifinals when Hareb took control early, setting up her scoreline with a 9.70 on her first wave. Weston-Webb followed with a big number of her own, earning an 8.17 on her first go, but Hareb backed up her bomb with an 8.83 to put Tati back into a combination position. That held up for the 18.53 to 15.34 win as Tati finished one heat shy of the final.

Tati previously took down France’s Justine Dupont in the quarters and Australia’s Mikaela Greene in the Round of 16 after having advanced through her two opening heats. The result nets her 3,500 points and $1,900 to start 2015.

Maeda is trying to follow Tati’s lead from last year, when the Princeville rider earned herself a spot on this year’s world tour with a sixth-place finish in the WQS rankings. Maeda wasn’t a full-time competitor on the QS, but still wound up in 17th place, thanks mostly to that great result in France. She couldn’t have asked for a better way to open her campaign, but the top of the world rankings usually changes rapidly and with one 10,000 and six 6,000-point contests on the schedule for the rest of the year, I expect it will again.

Koloa’s Brianna Cope took an Equal Ninth place for 1,550 points, falling to Dupont in the Round of 16. That’s her second-best result in a QS of this level. Cope finished last season in 14th place, making an unexpected jump up the rankings with a runner-up showing at the Los Cabos Open of Surf.

Anahola’s Mainei Kinimaka started her year with an Equal 17th finish, falling in the Round of 24. Kinimaka had the longest road of the Kauai contingent, beginning in the Round of 72 and surviving through three rounds before finishing third to France’s Pauline Ado and New Zealand’s Ella Williams one round shy of the head-to-head matchups. She will earn 1,050 points, which is a great haul for her first ever QS contest.

Oahu’s Dax McGill, another former Team Hawaii gold medalist, never got her event going as she took third place in her opening heat. Fellow Oahu surfer Bailey Nagy also had an early exit, unable to escape from her Round of 60 foursome.

The wahine have a couple weeks off before the next QS6000 contest, which will be the Hurley Australian Open in New South Wales (Feb. 9 to 15). Oahu’s Carissa Moore took that title last season and it was an especially successful wave for a number of Hawaii’s best. Five of the final eight surfers in that event were from Hawaii – three of them being Kauai’s Malia Manuel, Nage Melamed and Leila Hurst. So it wouldn’t be a shock to see some of this aloha spirit from China creep its way down under.

David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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