Stab Magazine | A Report from Yesterday's Hurley Pro Trials

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A Report from Yesterday’s Hurley Pro Trials

The waves were small, but then so is Hiroto Ohhara.

news // Jul 29, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Peering through the cracks of Trafalgar’s prison-caged stairwell, I spied a goofyfoot hovering across a knee-high wedge.

The Hurley Pro trials – which grants two wildcard entries into mainland America’s only CT event – had yet to commence, but you wouldn’t know it the way this guy was moving. He finished the wave with a friction-free air rev and an energetic flick over the whitewater. 

Straight back out there

At that moment, I knew Evan Geiselman would surf against the Top-34 — if not for all of 2018, then at least this September at Lowers.

He wasn’t so confident. 

After nearly qualifying for the CT last year, Evan’s had a rocky start to 2017. At the moment he resides 62nd on the QS, with no major results in hand. He did win a small event in Florida, but those 1,000 points won’t help much on the road to qualification.

The highlight of Evan’s year came after a disappointing performance at the Ballito Pro. Discouraged by his result at the first major event of the season, Evan chose to diffuse the stench of defeat with a trip to Skeleton Bay. It was there, in the desert of Namibia, that Evan found an impossibly long, flat-bottomed barrel – maybe the best ever at that spot, which is to say, the best ever, period. That wave just might have lit a spark in the American.

Screen Shot 2017 07 28 at 12.59.59 PM

Evan’s all spring, even the dead of summer. Photo: Peter King

“Through all the years of competing, going through the ups and downs, you realize that it only takes one event, or one score in a crucial moment, to turn your year around. I’m hoping this is that moment,” Evan said yesterday, in his trials victory speech.

But let’s see how he got there.

The Hurley Pro trials, which were really two competitions spliffed into one, featured 12 of San Clemente’s* and 12 of Hurley’s finest riders. It went like this:

  • The contest had two separate (but equal!) draws, one for Hurley riders and one for SC locs.
  • The competitors surfed in two four-man, non-elimination heats, after which every surfer’s top three waves were tallied. The four surfers with the highest three-wave total from each side of the draw moved on to their respective semifinals.
  • Semifinals and finals were surfed man-on-man in typical competition format.
  • The winner of each final (Hurley and San Clem) won a wildcard into the 2017 Hurley Pro Lowers.

This format led to some fascinating scenarios. 

There were the Colapinto brothers who, despite posting nothing of value in the first round, came back to secure three major scores in their second attempts, leading to eventual finals berths (Crosby Colapinto qualified for this event via the Kolohe Andino Invitational on the day prior. At 16, Crosby was one heat away from being one of the youngest to ever surf in a Men’s CT event).

There were the six ex-CTers (Yadin, Brett, Pat, Tanner, Alejo, and Machado) who failed to crack the finals. Do you think they went home and questioned their place in this big, blue world (this applies to all but Machado, who dropped an 8.1 riding a stubby twin fin), or shrugged it off as a fluke?

Screen Shot 2017 07 28 at 1.47.47 PM

After Rob remembered how to put the jersey on, the competitive juices started flowing. He narrowly missed a semifinal berth despite his alternative choice of craft. Photo: Peter King

Then there were the finalists, whose average age was 19 (Evan 23, Hiroto 21, Griffin 18, Crosby 16). There would be no brotherly/teenage domination today, though. 

But let’s step away from the fire, if just for a moment. As Peter King has taught us, the finer points of a contest often happen beyond the checkered flags. Here’s a list of fun, semi-anonymous things I saw/heard today 

Sights

  • Ian Crane and Griffin Colapinto shared an 18-point lefthander, eerily similar to Slater and Wilko’s 17-point right in France   2014 (see 4:06) .
  • Due to a recent haircut, Alejo Muniz’s brother looked more like Alejo than Alejo looked like Alejo.
  • Griffin paddled out for one of his heats sans jersey, resulting in his father’s frantic sprint down the beach — red jersey waving high above head — to the sound of raucous laughter from the competitors’ area.

Sounds

  • From a pro surfer: “Damn, Griffin can’t do shit without Snake.” (In reference to Griff’s singlet faux pas and his apparent reliance on supercoach Jake ‘The Snake’ Patterson, who was not in attendance.)
  • From a disgruntled loser: *Gesturing masturbatorily* “Fucking strokefest out there. The judges might as well hand him the trophy.”
  • Between a disgruntled loser’s friends: *Shrugging shoulders* “I thought he lost fair and square…”
  • From a commentator: “The point of pro surfing is to travel and get away from people.”
  • From a pro surfer: “Did I tell you guys how my brother accidentally sent my mom a dick pic?”
  • From another pro surfer: “Please don’t quote me saying that.”
  • From the same pro surfer: “Don’t quote me on that either!” 

Screen Shot 2017 07 28 at 12.53.25 PMYadin didn’t win today, but he was still the life of the party.

The contest atmosphere was more day at the beach than battle royale, which makes sense with San Clemente’s small-town vibe, but it’s also a little odd considering the stakes of the event. 

“This comp is more valuable than a mid-level QS,” contest director Darren Brillhart told me. “From the press they’ll receive, to the experience of surfing in a CT event, and then obviously the money, these trials are a huge deal.”

And he’s not kidding about the cash. While the trials offered no direct compensation, entry to a CT event is highly lucrative. For instance, a last place finish at Lowers will yield a $10,000 paycheck. A semifinal finish, as achieved by last year’s wildcard Tanner Gudang, is worth $25,000. 

That’s like… a brand new car!

Which brings us to Hiroto Ohhara, the five-foot-tall Japanese man who won’t seem to go away. After winning the U.S. Open and the Hurley Pro trials in 2015, Hiroto has slowly but surely cemented himself as a legitimate qualification threat. He currently sits at number 10 on the QS rankings.

In the Hurley-side final, Hiroto upended Crosby Colapinto’s dream-run, using the same backside combo that won him $100k back in 2015. In my notes from the first round (in which Hiroto scored nothing higher than a five), I put “best” next to Hiroto’s name, as I found his surfing technically superior to all others on the day. The young man has truly impeccable form — something we’ll all get to enjoy come the Lowers comp in September.

Screen Shot 2017 07 28 at 1.02.05 PM

All 100-pounds of Hiroto, chaired up the beach by Shaw and Kei Kobayashi. Is Japan rising? 

“I’m so excited to surf in the Hurley Pro again,” Hiroto told me. “I just really don’t want to surf against John John. I can’t beat him. [laughs]”

In the local final, Griffin Colapinto fell to EG, whose speed and finesse were unparalleled on the day. That he was one of few competitors riding an epoxy surfboard probably didn’t hurt.

“This is the only place I ride an epoxy,” Evan explained. “Even at home and in VB I stick to PU, but something about T-Street really loves the epoxy.”

While most struggled to build enough speed for two major turns, Evan was taking off on tiny side-chops, speed-floating past sections, and accelerating through every maneuver. He finished his waves with the same friction-free reverse I’d spied in the morning, through the cracks of that prison-caged stairwell.

Look for big performances from both Ev and Hiroto in the upcoming U.S. Open of Surf. 

*’San Clemente’ is apparently a loosely defined term, considering Evan hails from Florida and somehow Costa Rica’s Noe Mar McGonagle found himself in the mix.

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