SEBASTIAN INLET, Florida/ USA (Wednesday, January 17, 2018) – The World Surf League (WSL) North America Qualifying Series (QS) season kicks off tomorrow morning at Sebastian Inlet, Florida, for the inaugural Ron Jon Florida Pro presented by Sunshine State Lager Women’s QS6,000 and Men’s QS1,500. Some of the world’s best women competitors will be in attendance with a valuable 6,000 points on offer to start the season. The men’s field encompasses some of North America’s up-and-coming talents looking to get their start on the QS level, but have a few seasoned veterans they must overcome along the way.
A formidable women’s field includes seven current Championship Tour (CT) competitors, along with six former CT surfers looking to find their way back to the Top 17 with a kickstart here at Sebastian Inlet.
Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) prepares to enter her third year on the CT and wants to jump into a jersey right away. The Kauaian-native finished No. 2 on the QS rankings last season to back up her No. 10 spot on the CT Jeep Leaderboard. Weston-Webb managed to double-qualify, meaning she finished in the Top 6 of the QS and Top 10 of the CT, with a few impressive performances scattered throughout 2017 and now looks to improve once more.
“I always support events that give back to women’s surfing and provide plenty of opportunities for us,” Weston-Webb said. “I know that the QS has had a bit of difficulty solidifying the high rated events, so to have this event at the beginning of the year is a great opportunity to get valuable points right away. I’ve been training hard in the off season in Brazil for about a month and I definitely feel strong, and excited, coming into this event.”
It’s been a long three years away from the CT for New Zealand’s Paige Hareb (NZL) after spending five years on the elite stage. Hareb’s terrific run last season earned her the No. 9 spot on the QS and, with three surfers double-qualifying, found her way back to the Top 17. The 27-year-old still has a lot of surfing planned in her career and is putting the time in early to get the competitive spark on track.
“It’s nice to have a chance to get off to a good start at the very beginning of the year,” Hareb said. “The 6,000 events and ladies surfing in them are only getting stronger and stronger — it’s so good to see and be a part of. I’ve never been here and I love traveling so hopefully I can find some cool little spots in the area and hopefully get some fun waves. I can definitely say I have more confidence. I’ve qualified twice now so I know I can do it and compete with the best, but, in saying that, there’s some amazing talent coming through.”
But, these top seeds will have to deal with potential threats such as wildcard, and Florida native, Rachel Presti (USA). Presti had a breakthrough year on the North America Junior Tour with a No. 5 finish after notching her first-ever Finals appearance in Barbados. The 15-year-old continues to grow through the sport of surfing and has her eyes set on some big goals in 2017.
“I think it’s really cool to see my friends from all over the world come to my home town and get the Florida vibe,” Presti said. “It’s very exciting because it’s such a large event and great way to start off the year. An event like this gives me a great chance to see how I stand up against big girls. Also, every heat I surf makes me more comfortable and confident surfing in these bigger events.”
The Florida Pro presented by Sunshine State Lager Men’s QS1,500 draw features some of North America’s finest up-and-comers alongside veteran talent on hand. This marks the first men’s QS at Sebastian Inlet since 2009 and the excitement from competitors is at an all-time high.
Former CT competitor Gabe Kling (USA) grew up just north of Sebastian Inlet in St. Augustine, Florida, and was a major threat the last time Sebastian Inlet hosted a contest. The now 37-year-old still finds himself contest hungry when they are on his home coast and be around fellow Floridian competitors such as Asher Nolan (USA) and Evan Geiselman (USA) — along with up-and-coming local talents Tommy Coleman (USA) and Chase Modelski (USA).
“This is super exciting to see Sebastian get an event back after the experience last time around,” Kling said. “It’s such a unique and beautiful spot that also allows for a lot of crowd to come down and watch. We as surfers just love to have events near us and the opportunity it provides for the upcoming kids is incredible. Any chance they have to do a QS while still in the junior ranks is a great experience and maybe even get on a roll to get into more events after the seeding shuffle. I love still doing these events and competing so the chance to do it down the road is great.”
Chauncey Robinson (USA) is one Floridian ready for more events in his area. Robinson finished off his 2017 QS season with a runner-up in Barbados last November and wants to pick up where he left off for his hometown crowd of Melbourne Beach just down the road.
“It’s amazing to be able to kick off the year at my home break of Sebastian Inlet,” Robinson said. “It’s such a big opportunity that I would love to capitalize on. The wave is super tricky, but it can produce some special moments. I sort of missed out on being able to watch the O’Neil events take place in person. However, growing up surfing Sebastian nearly every day, a majority of the guys I’ve idolized over the years there competed in the events and I’ve heard tons of stories — and watched the highlight packages of each event countless times.”
Event organizers will meet to assess conditions at 7:30 a.m. EDT for a possible 8:00 a.m. EDT start. Tune in LIVE at www.worldsurfleague.com, or by downloading the free WSL App, to watch all the action unfold.
The Ron Jon Florida Pro pres. by Sunshine State Florida Lager Women’s QS6,000 and Florida Pro pres. by Sunshine State Lager Men’s QS1,500 runs January 18 through 24 at Sebastian Inlet, Florida.