The rain stopped, the skies cleared and the waves were pumping.
The kickoff to the competitive surf year didn’t disappoint Friday as athletes battled it out south of the Huntington Beach Pier at the Shoe City Pro, the first stop on the World Surf League qualifying series. Waves were in the 4- to 5-foot range to open the three-day event.
“We luck out every year,” said contest organizer Scott Waring, who said it was pouring rain on workers Thursday as they set up tents on the sand. “It was glassy through the day and sunny. It was awesome.”
The event isn’t a big one for points but draws some big names. Current World Tour competitor and Huntington Beach native Kanoa Igarashi hit the water Friday, warming up for his second year on tour to compete against the world’s best.
Expected to surf today is former World Tour surfer Brett Simpson, who at the same spot won U.S. Open of Surfing titles in 2009 and 2010.
In total, 96 men and 32 women are competing.
When the women hit the water today, Newport Beach’s Kaleigh Gilchrist, part of the gold medal U.S. water polo team at last year’s Olympics, will be competing with a renewed focus, trying to get into the 2020 Olympic Games – this time as a surfer.
Gilchrist, who grew up surfing competitively, won this event in 2014. While she’s done a few contests since bringing home the gold about five months ago, this event kicks off her 2017 campaign as a pro surfer.
“It’s kind of the best possible situation I have, with not too much pressure,” she said. “I’ve been training; it will be a good kick-starter for the first contest of the year.”
She watched Friday as close friend and fellow Newport surfer Victor Done won his heat. She resisted the temptation to surf herself out.
“I was kind of jealous. I’m trying to be conscious about my body and preparing for competitions – it looks so fun, but I knew I’d be exhausted for tomorrow,” she said.