Australia’s beyond-smooth Harrison Roach lost a tight wave-starved Round 5 to Brazilian goofy Rodrigo Sphair. Pic: WSL / Van Kirk
Brit fighter pilot Ben Skinner giving Justin Quintal brexit. Pic WSL/ Cait Miers
2015 WSL World Champ Rachael Tilly, through to finals day. Pic: WSL / Van Kirk
After missing the Spanish leg with an injury, reigning World Champ Steve Sawyer is still in it in NY, down to the final eight. Pic WSL/ Cait Miers
Joel Tudor and Kani Stewart go the hug after swapping boards while riding their final wave. Seriously it was mad! Pic WSL/ Cait Miers
9 September 19
Incredible moments throughout a critical day of competition as Quarterfinalists are locked in. The WSL Men and Women’s Longboard Classic supported by I LOVE NY saw the forecast drop in swell occurr but still provided two-to-three footers for competitors to demonstrate their ability in testy conditions. And those who found the gems rose to the occasion.
Top seeds Kai Sallas (HAW), Tony Silvagni (USA), along with Round 3 standouts Kevin Skvarna (USA) and Harrison Roach (AUS), smashed through the remaining heats of Round 4 before Skvarna and Roach faced elimination in Round 5.
But, one of the most anticipated heats awaited in Round 5 Heat 2 featuring LT and event standout Kaniela Stewart (HAW), 18, facing two-time WSL World Champion Joel Tudor (USA) – and it left the beach in awe. The two exchanged a wave-for-wave battle that Tudor had the upper hand in through the first ten minutes before Kaniela earned an excellent 8.00 (out of a possible 10) and then going to find a 7.80 back up to overtake one of the sport’s icons. But, strategic planning from Tudor put the two competitors on the same wave and finished off with a Vans Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational style, board swap ending that showcased what the heart of longboarding truly represents event at a competitive level that drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
"I’ve been thinking about a World Title and it’s not impossible,” Stewart said. “Joel is such an amazing person and one of my favorite surfers, and I’ve always looked up to him. I’m so I got to surf with him. I think I’ve only surfed with him once in a contest in Malibu which was the first time we actually met so I’m stoked to get another heat with him. He told me I'm the next generation and I just told him he's the man.”
"I knew with about seven minutes left I wasn't going to make comeback and for me I was just here to participate and watch the new generation come in," Tudor added. "I passed the baton on to him and it was a clean hand-off in the end like 'good luck, carry it from here.' That was the most proud of a loss I've ever had in my life and one of the better endings to an awesome surf career."
Following that affair, a heavyweight bout awaited between current No. 1 Justin Quintal (USA) and LT veteran Ben Skinner (GBR). Quintal controlled the majority of the heat with his signature style in conditions similar to a day in his hometown of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and looked well on his way to another victory in Long Beach. But the waves answered a down-spirited Skinner and the Englishman seized the opportunity to garner a heat-winning 8.17.
“That was a crazy heat and I really didn't have anything together before the start of the heat," Skinner said. "Justin's not only a great bloke, but he's the best longboarder in the world right now and I've got the utmost respect for him. I accepted defeat before I even went in the water and then that wave came to me and I just surfed it the best I could. It feels unreal right now and just so happy with that."
But the upsets weren't done yet as Kai Sallas (HAW) took down former, two-time WSL World Champion Phil Rajzman (BRA) before East Coast's own Tony Silvagni eliminated three-time WSL World Champion Taylor Jensen (USA) in a heat that came down to the wire. Silvagni seemed miles ahead of Jensen with a 12.50 (out of a possible 20) heat total before extending his lead until the final minutes when Jensen surged back to give himself a chance. But, Jensen fell short of the 6.84 requirement as both awaited the news on the beach.
"You can never count Taylor out," Silvagni said. "He’s one of the best guys on the Longboard Tour and is capable of anything. It’s very special. I’ve been having such a great day and this is what I live for. I love competitive surfing and I just want to give this heat win to my uncle who’s having medical issues right now. This goes out to my family and can’t thank everyone enough for all the love and support we’ve been getting."
Joining these event threats are the likes of LT veterans Jefson Silva (BRA), Cole Robbins (USA), Rodrigo Sphaier (BRA), and reigning WSL World Champion Steven Sawyer (ZAF).
Before sensational men’s competition, a critical Round 4 awaited the world’s best women longboarders and major eliminations began right away in Heat 1.
Two-time World Champion Kelia Moniz (HAW) and reigning World Champion Soleil Errico (USA) shared a tough-going heat that witnessed Moniz take down Errico in dicey fashion. The experience and grace of Moniz was tested with uncharacteristic falls but pulled through when she needed it most after a slow start and her momentum-shifting 5.77 ended up sealing a clutch victory.
"It feels good to get that one and glad it's over after battling through it," Moniz said. "It's a little smaller than the last few days but there's still waves and there's still a clean face. People are still getting solid scores and I'm just happy to be into the Quarters. I'm falling a bit too much but I like to think I'm saving it for finals day and I've been shooting for the upcoming Sound Waves episode which is cool to show my family dynamic here in New York."
Current LT No. 1 Chloe Calmon (BRA) continued her control over the world’s best with another Quarterfinal appearance after a Round 5 victory, but No. 2 Honolua Blomfield (HAW) was right behind her with the women’s top performance of a 7.67 and immaculate 14.10 heat total. The 2017 WSL World Champion showed her iconic style and poise with beautiful hang tens along with signature cross-stepping maneuvers to make her way back into the Quarterfinals in 2019.
“It got smaller but there were still a couple and there’s a wave back home I surf to practice for these kind of waves so I was pretty comfortable out there,” Blomfield said. “I was lucky to find a few with some open wall to them. It actually looks really good in this heat right now but ours was more difficult. Kirra’s (Seale) a good friend so that’d be a fun heat but we’re all friends so whoever gets through will be a good one.”
Also through to finals day, 2015 WSL World Champion Rachael Tilly (USA), freshly crowned European Regional Longboard titleholder Alice Lemoigne (FRA), LT veteran Lindsay Steinriede (USA) along with dark horse threats Mahina Akaka (USA) and Sally Cohen (HAW) are all into the Quarterfinals.
Event organizers will reconvene in the morning to make a call for a possible start to either men or women’s Quarterfinal action.
The Longboard Classic New York supported by I LOVE NY will run September 6 - 12 in Long Beach, New York, featuring these and more of the world’s top-tier longboard talents. The event is also supported by Discover Long Island in bringing the WSL back to New York for the first time in eight years.
- REPORT BY ANDREW NICHOLS, FOR THE WSL