Aspiring talent is easily lost in the sea of highly publicized international surfing stars and world title events these days. But it's qualifying competitions like the HIC Pro, currently underway at Sunset Beach, that are both the bread and butter of those working to climb the ranks, and rare opportunities to learn to perform at world famous venues like this. It was an opportunity that Tahitian teenager Keoni Yan, 18, seized with both hands today.
In his first professional competition here in Hawaii, no-one was putting money on Yan. For one, this is Sunset Beach - known to favor experience and local knowledge. Second, Yan had drawn three Hawaii surfers, including two of the best at Sunset: Myles Padaca - a former Vans Triple Crown champion, and former HIC Pro champ Hank Gaskell (Maui). It didn't help that his inexperience saw him arrive "under-gunned", with surfboards far too small for the sheer volume of Sunset's wave.
Under the wing of resident big wave charger "Big Ben" Wilkinson (Aus) - who caddied and coached from the channel, and on a borrowed 7'2" surfboard provided by HIC's shaper Eric Arakawa, Yan quietly undermined the heat. Sitting in fourth position and requiring two solid scores with just six minutes to go, he nailed two rides in succession to advance in second place behind Kevin Sullivan (HAW), eliminating Padaca and Gaskell. It was a stunning outcome and a shot of confidence for the youngster who is looking forward to an increase in wave size for the final days of competition.
"I've been training with Big Ben and that was my first time competing at Sunset, so it's a good experience, a good first heat, hard too", said Yano, who was born in Hawaii but relocated as a small child to Tahiti.
"I only had a 6'6", but I broke it surfing the day before the contest. I tried to contact Eric to see if I could try some of his boards here and I tried this one (7'2") yesterday and it worked really good, so I rode it during my heat.
"I got one (wave) at the beginning but fell off, so I tried to pick bigger waves, especially since I'm riding a 7'2", so I could paddle easy onto the wave. I've been surfing with Big Ben and he's a charger, so he pushes me when we surf big waves... Haleiwa, here, everywhere. I like big waves, small waves, any kind. I'm ready."
Yan is now into the business end of the event, certain to earn at least a $700 pay day, if not more. First prize in this $95,000, 4-star ASP rated event is $15,000. Padaca and Gaskell were the heaviest hitters to head home early today, along with former HIC Pro champion Billy Kemper (Maui).
There were plenty of quality waves on offer today, in the six-foot range with very clean conditions. Top scoring heats came from Ian Gentil (Maui); Alex Smith (Kauai); Ian Walsh (Maui); and Evan Valiere (Kauai). The forecast calls for another increase in swell tonight with waves expected to reach the high surf advisory level for a continuation of competition tomorrow. Two full days of surfing remain.
(Surfers are from Hawaii unless noted otherwise)
Round of 96: (1st & 2nd advance; 3rd=65th; 4th=81st)
H1: Alex Smith; Kalani Chapman; Colin Moran (USA); Ty Watson (AUS)
H2: Ian Walsh; Kaimana Jaquias; Saxon Lumsden (AUS); Mikey Bruneau
H3: Dylan Goodale; Breyden Taylor (USA); Marcus Hickman; Ricky Whitlock (USA)
H4: Evan Valiere; Jonah Morgan; Jeronimo Vargas (BRZ); Nils Schweizer (USA)
H5: Mitchell James (AUS); Skip McCullough (USA); Gai Sato (JPN); Micah Moniz
H6: Kevin Sullivan; Keoni Yan (PYF); Hank Gaskell; Myles Padaca
H7: Ian Gentil; Dylan Kowalski (USA); Nick Mita; Makai McNamara
H8: Jake Davis (USA); Taylor Clark (USA); Cahill Bell-Warren (AUS); Jeremy Carter (USA)
H9: Isaiah Moniz; Liam McNamara; Kylen Yamakawa; Taishi Kawabata (JPN)
H10: Kahea Hart; Trevor Thornton (USA); Mihimana Braye (PYF); Nobuyuki Osawa (JPN)
(Heats 11-16 held over to next day of competition.)
Continuation of Round of 128, from Tuesday:
(1st & 2nd advance; 3rd=97th; 4th=113th)
H8: Jake Davis (USA); Nick Mita; Bruce Quinn (AUS); Brad Ettinger (USA)
H9: Isaiah Moniz; Mihimana Braye (PYF); Will Hunt; James Fazio (USA)
H10: Trevor Thornton (USA); Taishi Kawabata (JPN); Imaikalani Devault; Landon McNamara
H11: Kelly Norris (AUS); Sean Moody; Love Hodel; Scott Weinhardt (USA)
H12: Kaito Kino; Nathan Carvalho; Flynn Novak; Stephen Koehne
H13: Makuakai Rothman; Kilian Garland (USA); Robert Patterson; Jake Kelley (USA)
H14: Pancho Sullivan; Noa Mizuno; Billy Kemper; Benji Brand (ZAF)
H15: TJ Barron; Tai Van Dyke; Charlie Carroll; Cheyne Willis
H16: Tom Dosland; Kekoa Bacalso; Jason Harris (USA); Chris Foster