Zietz, Manuel win opening heats of 2015 at Gold Coast

There won’t be any second-round drama for a pair of Kauai surfers as the opening rounds of both the men’s and women’s debut events of 2015 ran all the way through on Friday (Saturday local time). Malia Manuel took care of business in the first heat of the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, relegating France’s Johanne Defay and American Sage Erickson to round two. Sebastian Zietz bested Tahiti’s Michel Bourez and New Zealand’s Ricardo Christie in his first heat of the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast. Both jump to round three without the stresses of a round two exit looming over their heads.

The men started the day and Zietz got going early in the two- to four-foot glassy conditions at Snapper Rocks in Queensland, Australia. It was a far cry from the most recent Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour contest, the Billabong Pipe Masters that closed out the 2014 season. Saturday at Snapper was all about style and flow, connecting sections and creative maneuvers. Seabass picked up his best score when he headed right on a smooth face, hit a couple turns off the lip and then finished it off with what looked like some type of illusion. He grabbed his rail with one hand and essentially held on to the wave with the other, turning his board around and emerging for a 7.83.

Bourez almost pulled off the comeback as he tore up another right, but went down on his final maneuver. Needing a 7.93 to jump into first, he received a 7.77. The result sends Zietz directly into the third round.

Four of the five Hawaii surfers won their opening heats. Zietz led things off before Freddy Patacchia bested Kelly Slater in the very next heat. John John Florence made it three straight Hawaii heat winners as he topped Glenn Hall and Jadson Andre. Dusty Payne later made it four for four when he earned the win over Brazilian duo Adriano de Souza and Filipe Toledo. Oahu rookie Keanu Asing was unable to make it a clean sweep as he went up against local favorites Bede Durbidge and Taj Burrow.

Asing will now have to take on another Aussie in the elimination round two when he faces Owen Wright. This is the young Hawaiian’s first CT contest, so expectations are more about experience than a result. But he’s certainly showed how he can perform in pressure situations as he maintained quality results on the Qualifying Series last year to earn his spot in 2015.

Five Aussies — Joel Parkinson, Matt Banting, Matt Wilkinson, Julian Wilson and Durbidge — won their opening heats, as did defending world champ Gabriel Medina, Jordy Smith and Nat Young.

Once the women got started, Manuel opened up with a flurry and then held on for a close victory. Erickson had nabbed a couple scores before Manuel found her first ride at the 20-minute mark. She struck a couple nice carves and a wrap before waiting for a reform section with another small carve. It was good for a 6.83 and a solid start to her account.

Needing a 6.28 to overtake Erickson, she patiently waited for ride number two, which paid off at the 12-minute mark. Five total turns were enough to earn the highest wave score of a 6.97 and a 13.80 total. Though both Erickson (13.33) and Defay (12.03) would improve their scores, neither was able to jump into first. The win sends Manuel into round three, which was a familiar refrain last season. She had just one second-round elimination and reached the quarterfinals in seven of the year’s 10 events.

Kauai’s Tatiana Weston-Webb was not as fortunate in her opening heat, though it looked like she would pull off a huge upset. With just a minute remaining, Weston-Webb held a lead over two-time world champ Carissa Moore and Laura Enever. Each needed a 7.54 and Enever had first crack at a heavier wave, but she received a 4.67 when she became unstuck at the finish. Moore paddled into the final wave with just 20 seconds left and climbed it on a few turns, keeping her speed and getting everything she could out of it, which impressed the judges to the tune of a 7.67 and the comeback win.

Weston-Webb now heads to round two, where she will have to face South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag in an elimination heat. Tati made it to round three in all three of her CT events last season, but Buitendag will provide a huge obstacle. She had her best ever CT result last season at Snapper, reaching the final for a runner-up finish.

Moore and Manuel were the two Hawaii wahine to win their opening heats, while Weston-Webb, Coco Ho and Alessa Quizon will all be on the hot seat in round two.

The swell at Snapper Rocks was anticipated to go down today, but whenever it resumes, the contest is being shown live on Oceanic Surf Channels 250 and 1250. Queensland is 20 hours ahead of Hawaiian Standard Time, so organizers will make the call at 11:30 a.m. HT (7:30 a.m. local time).

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

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