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Defay takes Surfest crown after Tati, Manuel, McDougall fall in quarters

Surfest 2017 saw finals day come and go on Saturday with a pair of champs crowned in the year’s first QS 6,000 events. With a few of the biggest names still in the mix on both sides of the draw, especially the women’s event, things were bound to be interesting and competitive.

Despite being two of the most accomplished surfers left in the women’s field, both Tatiana Weston-Webb and Malia Manuel were upset in their quarterfinal heats. I’m using the term “upset” a bit loosely, because each was definitely very familiar with their talented counterparts.

Tati opened the quarterfinal round with a head-to-head meeting with New Zealand’s Paige Hareb. Since falling off the Championship Tour after the 2014 season, Hareb has had consistent success on the Qualifying Series, despite falling short of a recurring role on the CT. But if the early stages of 2017 are any indication, she may very well be back on the dream tour in 2018.

With three straight heat wins under her belt, including a win over Hareb in round four and a knockout of Silvana Lima in round five, Weston-Webb appeared to be the bigger threat of the two. But Hareb seized control in the Newcastle heavy chop, picking off the top wave and receiving an 8.17 for that effort. She added a solid backup to combine for a 14.17 total, topping Tati’s 11.07 two-wave score.

For Manuel, she matched up with one of 2016’s great turnaround stories, Sage Erickson, who is clearly carrying that late success into the early stages of 2017. From the US Open of Surfing on, Erickson went on a run that included three CT quarterfinals, one CT semifinal and a win at the QS 6,000 Pantin Classic Galicia Pro. Erickson re-qualified with her CT ranking, finishing ninth for the season.

But Manuel has still been the more well-rounded competitor, earning higher finishes against better competition. However, Saturday didn’t allow her that opportunity as the waves slowed during their heat. Manuel found only a couple of worthy rides and nothing netted her even a five-point score from the judges. Erickson was just a little luckier in her wave selection and picked up a 12.33 to 9.43 victory.

Both Weston-Webb and Manuel take fifth-place results that will net them 2,650 QS rankings points. It’s a total that would almost certainly play a role in their top five, if either needs to go the QS route at year’s end. They’ll need a couple of bigger hauls than this one, but it’s definitely a worthy starting point.

Hawaii’s third wahine to reach the quarterfinals, Zoe McDougall, was also unable to make it further. She went up against CT stalwart Johanne Defay, who came away with the easy win. This is by far McDougall’s best QS result, which is coming just a month after her win at the Sunset Pro Junior. She is successfully transitioning from the Junior to QS ranks and we’ll be seeing her a lot more this season.

France’s Defay went on to take the crown over Hareb in the final. Defay hasn’t needed to rely on her QS ranking since making the CT in 2014, but she now has a huge number in her back pocket should that change this season.

On the men’s side, Ezekiel Lau and Seth Moniz were the final Hawaii competitors, each reaching round five. Lau, who is getting ready for his CT rookie season, was narrowly edged by American Ian Crane, 14.47 to 14.17.

Moniz had to deal with maybe the top seed in any men’s QS event these days, Leonardo Fioravanti. As one of Lau’s best friends on the circuit, Fioravanti bested his bud by one round, topping Moniz before falling in the quarterfinals.

Weston-Webb maintained a rooting interest after her exit as boyfriend Jesse Mendes reached the final heat in the men’s bracket. Mendes showed in 2016 that he may also be on the cusp of CT inclusion. He won the QS 10,000 Cascais Pro and finished 13th on the 2016 QS leaderboard. His ability in different waves may be setting him up for a CT roster spot of his own.

There’s no rest for the competitors as the men’s Australian Open of Surfing and women’s Make Your Move Women’s Pro each begin Monday. Each are another QS 6,000 event, so it’s an additional shot to make an early-season statement for all with serious CT ambitions.

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

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