Imaikalani deVault of Hawaii surfs in Heat 8 of the Round of 32 at the Haleiwa Challenger at home in The Hawaiian Islands on December 1, 2022 at Haleiwa, Hawaii. (Photo by Tony Heff/World Surf League)
- Ian Gentil, Maxime Huscenot Solidify Positions Among the World’s Best
- Bettylou Sakura Johnson Debuts Brilliantly, Stays Ahead of the Qualification Race
- Alyssa Spencer, Teresa Bonvalot, Maintain Quest to Qualify
- John John Florence Steals the Show, Posts Event’s Best Performance So Far
- More Available at WorldSurfLeague.com
Finals Day is set for the Haleiwa Challenger at home in the Hawaiian Islands, the final stop of the World Surf League (WSL) 2022 Challenger Series. Building swell provided moments of near-perfection for world-class performances, Championship Tour (CT) dreams to be realized, and scattered upsets to keep the door open for CT hopefuls.
Ian Gentil’s Long Road to Joining the World’s Best Culminates In CT Qualification
Ian Gentil (HAW), 26, was expected to become one of the world’s best surfers from a young age, but his road to qualification has been a long one. After taking time away from the sport and returning to competition in 2018, he has finally solidified his position on the Dream Tour in 2023. A Semifinal finish at the EDP Vissla Pro Ericeira and Quarterfinal finish at the Corona Saquarema Pro helped catapult the Maui competitor within the Top 5 on the Challenger Series rankings.
“It’s a bit surprising it came early today,” said Gentil. “I was waiting for the Quarters or Semis and I was ready to camp and watch. I’m so thankful for everyone in my corner. It’s kind of hard to imagine this happening without them.”
Maxime Huscenot Puts France Back onto the Men’s CT
It’s been nearly a decade in the making for Reunion Island’s, Maxime Huscenot to join the world’s best, and with a Quarterfinal clinch after one of the best heats of the day unfolded, he finally succeeded. This marks France’s resurgence on the CT after Jeremy Flores (FRA) retired last season. Huscenot’s Semifinal appearance at the Boost Mobile Sydney Pro kickstarted his season and he notched another massive result at the Corona Saquarema Pro with a Quarterfinal finish.
“I’m happy I made it happen in the water,” said Huscenot. “In 2015 and 2016 I lost my qualification here in Hawaii losing in the first heat, and I didn’t know if I was going to keep going or not. I got a bad leg injury after that and came back, then all the things started clicking.”
Qualification Threats Keep the Pace Heading into Finals Day
Reigning event victor and current Challenger Series No. 4, Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW), debuted in brilliant form, opening with a 7.00 (out of a possible 10). But, her score was eclipsed by goofy footers Zoe Steyn (RSA) and Sawyer Lindblad (USA) who unleashed their backhand and accrued a 8.70 and 7.50 respectively. Despite the competition, Haleiwa’s own Sakura Johnson held firm for a heat win to send her into the Quarterfinals and stay well within CT qualification reach.
“Today is pretty difficult with the rising swell still filling in so it does get tricky with where you want to sit,” said Sakura Johnson. “I think just growing up here and knowing this wave, and always learning from this wave (is helpful), and just enjoying surfing with no one else out. I’m just hanging with my people, my close friends, and they’re just helping me live this like an everyday life.”
Southern California’s next CT hopeful Alyssa Spencer (USA), kept her qualification dreams alive under pressure with a vital debut heat win. Spencer showcased her signature backhand attack, throwing three solid turns and earning a 6.00 to start her campaign. She then backed it up with a 5.57, earning herself a spot in the Quarterfinals. Current No. 9 Sophie McCulloch (AUS) also found success, advancing over former CT competitor Dimity Stoyle (AUS), and keeping her qualification run intact.
“There’s a lot of things going on in this event for me, a lot on the line, and it’s hard to ignore that,” said Spencer. “I’m just trying to stay calm and not get too nervous or worked up before my heat. I just wanted to get myself on the best waves and do the best surfing I could.”
One of Portugal’s long-time qualification threats, Teresa Bonvalot, returned to the North Shore with her best opportunity of clinching in recent years. The Portuguese competitor had to face CT veteran Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), rising Tahitian star Vahine Fierro (FRA), and Round of 40 stand-out Anne Dos Santos (BRA). Bonvalot controlled the majority of the heat, but Fitzgibbons took the lead from her in the last 10 minutes with a 5.73. Bovalot maintained her composure and held priority off Fierro as time expired to advance behind the Australian.
Also notching impressive wins in their debuts and finding their way into the Quarterfinals, 2022 CT Rookie of the Year Gabriela Bryan (HAW), 2021 Olympian Amuro Tsuzuki (JPN), South Africa’s powerful goofy footer Sarah Baum, and former CT rookie India Robinson (AUS).
Rankings Leaders Stumble, Leaving the Door Open For CT Qualification Hopefulls
While the women’s CT hopefuls stood their ground, a different story unfolded in the opening heat of men’s action.
One of 2022’s most exciting CT rookies, Joao Chianca (BRA), had the opportunity to clinch his spot in Round of 32, but the matchup proved to be difficult for the Brazilian. An electric start from Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) left Justin Becret (FRA) and Lucas Silveira (BRA) fighting for the advancing spot, as Chianca was still looking for a score of consequence heading into the final minutes. When the horn sounded, Chianca was left needing an excellent 8.77.
Immediately following that affair, Oahu’s own Ezekiel Lau had an opportunity to further his chances of requalification and opened up in dominant form with a quick, 11.50 heat total. But, WSL Rip Curl Finals contender Ethan Ewing (AUS) utilized his world-class forehand to post an event best, near-perfect 9.50, as well as a 17.27 heat total, and Jesse Mendes (ITA) earned an excellent 8.00 to overtake the advancing position, eliminating Lau and solidifying Gentil’s qualification.
“I love this wave and it’s just been such a good trip, and it definitely takes a little bit of time to get used to the power over here,” said Ewing. “I was there once (in a qualifying race) and you can almost feel the pressure of being in that spot. It’s so exciting to watch and congratulations to all the guys and women who are making it happen this event.”
With Lau, Chianca, and Liam O’Brien (AUS) faltering, Michael Rodrigues (BRA), Morgan Cibilic (AUS), Jacob Wilcox (AUS), and Imaikalani de Vault (HAW) all had an opportunity to strike.
Rodrigues, Cibilic, and deVault all made their opportunities count to advance into the Quarterfinals as Wilcox unfortunately fell short.
John John Florence Steals the Show, Posts Event’s Best Performance So Far
Despite CT qualification scenarios in full effect, 2x WSL Champion and defending event victor, John John Florence (HAW) unleashed a dominant display of power surfing to accrue a near-perfect 9.40 and event-best 17.73 heat total. This marks Florence’s first time in the WSL jersey since the Quiksilver Pro G-Land and he’s not lost any of his hunger to dismantle his opponents.
“There’s just a lot of opportunity out there right now, “ said Florence. “It’s kind of fun when you have heats like this and know there’s tons of waves coming through, it’s one of the best waves in the world I think. And I think tomorrow is going to be absolutely pumping, the waves and the wind look really good.”
Event organizers will reconvene today, December 2, at 7:30 a.m. HST to determine a possible 8:05 a.m. HST start.
The competition window for the Haleiwa Challenger at home in The Hawaiian Islands is now open through December 7. Once called ON, the contest will be broadcast LIVE on WorldSurfLeague.com, WSL’s YouTube channel, and on the free WSL app. Also, check local listings for coverage from the WSL’s broadcast partners.
The Haleiwa Challenger at home in the Hawaiian Islands is proudly sponsored by At Home in the Hawaii Islands, Hawaiian Tourism, Shisiedo, Havaianas, Specturm, 805, Alaska Air, Turtle Bay, Fu Wax, and Hydro Flask.
For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.
About the WSL
The World Surf League (WSL) is the global home of competitive surfing, crowning the undisputed World Champions since 1976 and showcasing the world’s best surfers on the world’s best waves. WSL is comprised of the Tours and Competition division, which oversees and operates more than 180 global competitions each year; WSL WaveCo, home of the world’s largest high-performance, human-made wave; and WSL Studios, an independent producer of unscripted and scripted projects.
For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.