Local surf stars land in Australia for first stop of 2023 Challenger Series
Snapper Rocks is a long way from Lower Trestles, but for a handful of local surfers, the trip across the Pacific Ocean is a must.
This week, the first stop of the World Surf League’s Challenger Series, the Boost Mobile Gold Coast Pro, descends on the Gold Coast of Australia, where the planet’s brightest aspiring surfers, as well as some seasoned veterans, will vie for big results.
Per a slew of recent rule changes and restructurings at the WSL, the Challenger Series is now the pathway to qualifying for the Championship Tour, which will crown its world champions at the Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles this September.
As sports analogies go, think of the Challenger Series as like playing AAA minor league baseball. It’s the last stop before graduating to the majors. And this year, with the first midseason cut in place on the Championship Tour, some top-tier talent will also be in the mix.
When it comes to top-tier talent, nobody tops the GOAT, Kelly Slater. After failing to make the midseason cut, and subsequently getting wildcards into the remainder of the 2023 Championship Tour events, Slater’s insatiable competitive appetite can’t be quenched, even into his 50s.
With his name in the heat draw (heat 12 in the Round of 64), Slater appears intent on pulling on the jersey at a location with which he’s intimately familiar. Having won Championship Tour events at Snapper Rocks in the past, could we see him make some magic one more time? With Slater, anything’s possible.
Also falling off the Championship Tour in the middle of the season was hometown hero Kolohe Andino. A former Olympian, Andino has spent more than a decade on tour. After coming back from a foot/ankle injury, he won the Cold Water Classic in Santa Cruz earlier this year but never quite fell into a good groove on the Championship Tour.
Looking to hit reset and reenergize Andino’s surfing, Snapper fits his surfing perfectly. A spot he’s spent ample time at over the years, he should be feeling plenty comfortable in the warm water and long, hollow rights.
Andino will surf in heat 15 of the Round of 64, which is stacked. Not only is Aussie heavyweight Morgan Cibilic in the heat, but so is goofy-footed powerhouse Cole Houshmand. As a generational clash of San Clemente, hopefully the pair go 1-2 in the heat and advance into the next round (which may have happened by the time you read this).
The waiting period for the event kicked off May 6, but as of press time, results were not available.
San Clemente has a lot to cheer for when it comes to the next generation. Besides up-and-comer Houshmand, Kade Matson and Crosby Colapinto are also in the event.
Matson’s back from back surgery and surfing better than ever, while Colapinto’s taking a lot of inspiration from what his brother, Griffin, is accomplishing on the Championship Tour this year. Ranked fourth in the world, Griffin’s setting the pace for everyone in our local waters.
On the women’s side, it’s amazing to see so many former Groms of Week rising to the occasion in Australia.
Bella Kenworthy and Kirra Pinkerton were both seeded into the opening round, but unfortunately were unable to advance. Meanwhile, Sawyer Lindblad is hoping to capitalize on a strong run through the North American Qualifying Series to catapult onto the Championship Tour.
The waiting period for the Boost Mobile Gold Coast Pro runs through May 13. Hopefully, by the time weekend hits, there is still plenty of local talent in the heat draw and the waves at Snapper are pumping.
At one of the best pointbreaks in the world, the stakes are huge, and the surfing’s sure to go next-level.