Sunset Beach Pro Predictions
The Sunset Beach Pro isn't just the first event of the Standup World Tour. It's also the most prestigious single-event title in SUP surfing. Sunset Beach is often called a "large playing field" as the wave is shifty and the beach tends to catch swell from different directions, making it a centerpiece of Oahu's North Shore — seven miles packed with some of the most dynamic surf breaks in the world. It's where performance is measured. For the past four years this event has lucked into pumping swells and favorable winds, making for some of the most memorable SUP surfing competitions in our young sport's history. This year, the forecast looks good but not quite as pumping as it has in years past. The following are SUP magazine's picks for the 2014 Sunset Beach Pro.
Smart money says Kai Lenny will win this contest—for the fourth time. The guy is a competitive machine and currently holds the titles from the Standup World Tour, the Standup World Series and the Battle of the Paddle. He's got a champion's fire burning in him and those who know champions know they like nothing more than to keep the fire stoked. Not to mention that Lenny looks completely comfortable out here, jamming turns and weaving through barrels. Regardless of the size, Lenny will be hard to beat.
Robin Johnston does not get enough credit. The Oahu local has been runner-up here twice (2011, 2013) and is hungry to do one better. The regular-footer has a solid forehand and the technical skills to make that a reality. If the waves aren't as epic as they have been over the past few years, expect Johnston's local knowledge to get him to the money rounds.
Maui-boy Kody Kerbox is young, he rips and he got third here last year. He's also the offspring of legendary waterman Buzzy Kerbox. But the young Kerbox has the flair, precision and panache of SUP surfing's new generation that throws down big moves in big waves. If his video parts and performance from last year here are any indication, Kerbox will make his presence known at Sunset.
The Brazilian contingent on the World Tour just seems to grow stronger and stronger each year. Caio Vaz led that charge last season, taking second three contests in a row for a runner-up end-of-year ranking behind Kai Lenny. Don't let his constant smile fool you, Vaz wants that title. He should definitely be considered a contender when he paddles out at Sunset.
The only other World Champion besides Kai Lenny since the advent of the Standup World Tour, Leco Salazar can never be counted out. Although he'll be on his backhand at Sunset, Salazar's surfing is tack-sharp and fast, a good match for the shifty, bowly and unpredictable waves at Sunset and his third-place finish overall in 2013 will have him fired up coming into this year.
Another backhand maestro to watch for. Schweitzer has been feasting on big, toothy, Maui waves during this unusually busy Hawaiian winter and will be fit and ready to rage come contest time. His easy-going, high-fiving manner is not an act, but pull Schweitzer in a heat draw and you'll wish you hadn't. His high-paced, futuristic attack and ability to find barrel sections will be a factor in this contest. As with anyone surfing on their backhand out here, finding success will come down to winning the position battle and making sections.
The Tahitian Raioha is only 16 but you wouldn't know it by how he surfs. Born and bred on heavy reef waves, Tahitians are the most comfortable people in Hawaiian waters behind Hawaiians themselves. Not only that, but Raioha got fourth here last year and made another Standup World Tour final at Sapinus in 2012. Youth and talent, a dangerous combination.
In the past four years of this contest, the goofy-foot Lizarazu has never gotten worse than fifth. That should speak for itself. But, Lizarazu also won the 2011 Sapinus Pro in Tahiti in absolutely pumping surf and got second on the World Tour in 2010. The Frenchmen's game thrives in big waves so his performance may falter if the conditions aren't epic, and Sunset was his only event last year so we'll see if he makes it. While he may not be a household name in the U.S., if he shows up, he'll definitely be a factor. He might be too busy charging surf like this, though.
This Australian ripper is due for a big break. He's been in the top ten the last two years on the World Tour and although he's never had a big showing at Sunset, he has the skills to do so. His turns are always executed in critical sections and he's fast on his front side. If he's going to have a big year—and we think he is—Sunset will be his coming-out party.
Another guy that's due for his big break. We don't think it's going out on a limb to say that Poynter is among the most technically sound surfers on the tour. He puts in the time training and surfing and has been inside the top ten for the past three years (taking second to Lenny in 2012). Poynter is as fierce a competitor as we know and one of these days a switch will flip and he'll become the man to beat. That day could come this weekend.
Australian Dave Muir is our big boy pick. Muir charges hard and has a concrete-solid stance, which matches well with thumping Sunset. He'll definitely make some rounds—especially if it's big—but we'll bet he loses in the later rounds to the high-performance assault of the young guys.
Another Oahu local, Freitas is comfortable on big waves and shreds small waves, which should match the variable forecast. Freitas is also a proven winner, winning the 2012 Ubatuba Pro and the 2013 US SUP Tour at Huntington, both against the best in the world. And he's 16. If a youngster is going to do well in this contest, it's this guy (he's one of our dark horses).
Perkins is the only non-World Tour paddler to have won this event (and the only person besides Lenny) and he's taken fifth twice. The Oahu native and member of the Hawaiian Water Patrol is a two-time ASP World Longboard champ and is the man when it comes to longboarding Pipeline, so he knows how to compete and knows how to charge. The younger guys are more performance-oriented but Bonga is a solid pick that will make it far in the draw and has serious potential to take the whole contest.
Check SUPthemag.com for the live webcast and updates on the contest.