2019 surf season already getting busy in Hawaii and Florida

  • Keoki / WSL

    Billy Kemper won the 2018 Sunset Open and will be back to defend that title this week. Kemper is also currently competing in Da Hui Backdoor Shootout at Pipeline, which should continue today if conditions hold.

With the Sunset Open opening up on Friday, followed by the Volcom Pipe Pro on Jan. 29, we’re right back to the grind of the World Surf League season. The 2019 Qualifying Series schedule is already underway and ready to quickly pick up the pace over the next few weeks on Oahu.

The Sunset Open is just a QS 1,000 but it has traditionally included many of the top Hawaii surfers all looking to get their feet wet for the new year, as well as the opportunity to surf Sunset Beach in January with no lineup. The same is true this time around, with Barron Mamiya, Josh Moniz, Kiron Jabour, Imai Devault, Finn McGill and Benji Brand all among the top seeds.

Defending champ Billy Kemper is also slated to compete and begin with those entrants in the Round of 64. Kemper has already been having a winter to remember, earning his third Jaws Challenge victory in November and sitting in second for the season on the Big Wave Tour.

He is still staying busy, currently competing in Da Hui Backdoor Shootout, which has seen some big conditions this week at Pipeline. One of the waves of the winter was ridden by Kaito Matsuoka, who got a dream barrel and managed to come out clean with what appeared to be about 3,000 gallons of spray. If you can find the clip online, go check it out.

Kauai’s Tyler Newton has two of the top four single-wave scores to this point in the Backdoor Shootout, with Matsuoka currently leading the way with that perfect 12-point ride. Kemper, Bruce Irons, Jamie O’Brien and Koa Rothman also have single scores in the top 10. It’s always a star-studded event and the swell has allowed for some amazing action to put that talent on display.

While the men are mostly stationed here in Hawaii, the women’s Qualifying Series is already getting serious about 5,000 miles away. The Florida Pro is the first women’s event of consequence and many are on the mainland hoping to take home 3,000 points for first place.

Zoe McDougall is the first Hawaii wahine safely into round three, but there could be more to follow. She survived in second place during her low-scoring round two heat and will continue on into another four-woman matchup. But with half of the second round still to come, a number of notable names are aiming to do the same.

Brisa Hennessy may be about to begin her rookie campaign on the Championship Tour, but she’s starting her season at this QS contest and is likely to surf a heavy schedule on both tours in 2019. As Malia Manuel, Tatiana Weston-Webb, Coco Ho and others have shown in the past, having that elite QS ranking can be a huge benefit in removing some of the CT pressures.

Summer Macedo, Mahina Maeda and Brianna Cope are all still among the second-round competitors in what is a very tough early-season field. Caroline Marks took this title last season when it was a QS 6,000 event, and she’s back to defend that victory despite the lesser status this year.

Time off isn’t really a thing on the surf schedule and there’s no greater reminder of that than a heavy dose of January competition.


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


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