Today marked the opening day of action at the World Surf League (WSL) Men’s Qualifying Series (QS) Thomo QS 1,000 In Memory of Bill Thomson and Live Like Zander Junior Pro In Memory of Zander Venezia, the final stops of the North America QS and Pro Junior season respectively.
Four-to-five foot, gusty wind swells tested even seasoned Soup Bowl competitors to find the diamonds in the rough but those who could negotiate the lineup shone. Both events Round 1 draws were completed in their entirety with standout performances from the island’s own and a few former standouts. The women’s Pro Juniors were called off for the day.
Barbados’ Josh Burke delivered a jaw-dropping performance – the day’s best – that included a 7.50 (out of a possible 10) and 14.33 (out of a possible 20) heat total. Burke’s variety of major manoeuvers and extra flair into his airs separated the 22-year-old from the pack. He has found the right mindset after the difficult run in 2019 and had a game plan different from his fellow contingent.
“I waited about seven-minutes for the first wave so I was getting a little nervous but I was just hyped to get the water and surf,” Burke said.
“It’s all east swell which means it’s coming sideways down the beach and breaks out further than people may realize. You’re just looking for a wall out there and when you get that pocket turn that’s something the judges take notice of. I’ve just been trying to keep a good mindset and been using this year to reset – that injury was a lot of time and money so I’ve been working a lot and just taking some pressure off myself mentally to come back ready for next year.”
Barbados’ Bruce and Dane Mackie started the hometown jump-start with the brothers taking big wins in their respective Round 1 debuts. The younger of the duo, Dane, overpowered defending event winner Chauncey Robinson (USA) with a strong showcase of backhand surfing to start with a 6.17. Robinson nearly faced elimination but his last effort garnered the score he needed by .10.
“I’m always nervous in that first heat, especially with conditions like this – it’s the most current I think I’ve seen at a contest here,” said Dane. “That score settled me down a lot knowing the other guys had threes and fours to start.”
The eldest Mackie posted one of the day’s highest scores, a 7.33, to finish off his battle against up-and-coming talents Max Beach (USA), also advancing, Robbie Goodwin (USA) and Remy Juboori (USA). Mackie is joined by fellow Barbadians Che Allan, 2017 event winner, and Jordan Heaselgrave.
Before Burke dropped the day’s top performance, it belonged to current North America No. 1 Noah Schweizer (USA) and fellow New Smyrna Beach, Florida, native Daniel Glenn. This marks Schweizer and Glenn’s QS debut at Soup Bowl with both finding success in the Pro Junior, Glenn finding his maiden WSL victory in 2014, as Schweizer looks to keep his place atop the rankings.
“I was a little worried after the free-surfs being so crowded and not catching a proper wave but going into the heat was a lot easier without fifty kids out (laughs),” said Schweizer. “It feels so good to be back. There’s just a good energy here with the locals and this wave has a great push behind it. I’m just comfortable here and feel right at home.”
“This is one of my favorite places in the world, it’s really close to home and the waves are just phenomenal – you can’t ask for more,” said Glenn. “I missed Mexico trying to give my shoulder some time to heal so it’s great to be back. It’s pretty fun to get the jersey on and push the boys up the point a little bit. Just with this swell you have to be a bit further up there and it was great to finish strong.”
The Live Like Zander Junior Pro In Memory of Zander Venezia fired into action following men’s Round 1 with more impressive performances.
Ventura, California’s, Jabe Swierkocki felt right at home with the pulsing wind swell delivering sections for the 17-year-old to showcase his powerful forehand. Swierkocki eclipsed his 2017, first-ever showing at Soup Bowl, with the day’s first excellent score of an 8.83 and 16.33 heat total. With no stake toward a Top 2 spot to finish the season Swierkocki comes in with nothing but enjoying the event on his mind.
“I came here two years ago and it’s great to be back, and actually get some waves in a heat,” said Swierkocki. “The first heat was a tough loss being slow, so this one I just wanted to get a bit looser in the water and have more fun. There’s nothing to lose here anymore and this is great to get experience here again. Just figuring out the travel and piecing it all together so I can really go after it next year and it’s nice to feel that level of comfort coming.”
Costa Rican talent Malakai Martinez was one surfer who shared a special bond with Venezia, spending time together from a young age and competing against each other in Costa Rica. Martinez took some fire from his early loss in the Thomo QS 1,000 and left nothing in the water during Round 1 of the Live Like Zander Junior Pro – earning a 7.17 in the process. Now Martinez is preparing for the top seeds in Round 2 and a chance at edging closer to a win that goes beyond just an event victory.
“I hadn’t surfed this wave enough and couldn’t really figure it out during the free-surfs with so many people and having to sit super deep so I’m glad it came together,” Martinez said. “As a backhander you have to find a different kind of wave that gives you a more vertical section for the better scores so it’s tricky but I had fun once I relaxed more.”
“I never got to come here when Zander and I were close but when he came to Costa Rica to train we used to have some good battles before we became good friends,” Martinez added. “I have a lot of good memories with him, especially our last surf together on the East Coast before the accident, and I know it’s tough for Lou (Venezia) but hopefully he sees us as his kids as well because we will always carry those memories with us.”
Action continues tomorrow.