Maui’s Imaikalani deVault makes dominant debut in the Haleiwa Challenger
An all-important day witnessed Championship Tour qualification scenarios unfold at the Haleiwa Challenger at home in the Hawaiian Islands, the final stop of the World Surf League 2022 Challenger Series, with top seeds making their debuts.
A slight drop in swell provided inconsistent, four-to-six foot, occasional plus wave faces for some of the world’s best to deliver dynamic moments in the Round of 64. But, dreams were made and broken throughout the day as the first qualifications were confirmed and the final CT spots remain hanging in the air, according to the WSL.
Ramzi Boukhiam Makes History, First Moroccan to Qualify for CT
Today, the WSL Tours and Competition team confirmed that Ramzi Boukhiam (MOR) will be Morocco’s first-ever CT competitor in 2023. The long-time qualification hopeful made his dream a reality with big performances throughout the 2022 Challenger Series season, starting with a Quarterfinal finish at the Boost Mobile Gold Coast Pro, an equal ninth at the Vans US Open of Surfing, and earning a runner-up at the Saquarema Corona Pro.
“It’s ten years in the making just doing the Pro Junior and QS so it proves that if you do the hard work, you still can make it,” said Boukhiam. “I put up some good results this year but you never know. Especially with my heat earlier, but Leonardo (Fioravanti) was up there saying we might know by today, but I wasn’t expecting to know.
“I’m really proud of myself to show the people in Morocco and in the new generation that we have what it takes. The message I want to send is to hope and to believe, and that I did it for me and for all you back there.”
Two-time WSL Champion, and reigning event victor, John John Florence(HAW), made his highly-anticipated return to the WSL jersey in Round of 64, Heat 7. Florence witnessed Challenger Series competitors Gatien Delahaye(FRA) and Taichi Wakita (JPN) take control of the majority of the heat despite a 6.93 (out of a possible 10) opener. But, a last-minute opportunity gave Florence the minimal score he needed to regain the lead as time expired. Delahaye earned an important, advancing position behind him.
“I’m excited to compete again, and I’m super happy to be back in the jersey,” said Florence. “The whole mindset, the process, and everything, it’s what I love about competing. I’ve been competing so much my whole life and just took a little break, and I have a lot of excitement coming back.”
Former CT Competitors Handle the Pressure of Requalification
The epic conclusion to CT qualification scenarios got underway as 2022 CT rookie Imaikalani deVault (HAW) kept his mathematical dreams alive with a dominant debut, earning a 15.50 (out of a possible 20) heat total, the highest of the day. The Maui, Hawaii, competitor looked unstoppable, earning an 8.33 on his first wave, over 2022 CT standout Barron Mamiya (HAW), event standout Shane Sykes (RSA), and rising threat Brodi Sale (HAW).
“Today looked really tricky with some slow heats so ,” deVault told the WSL. “I watched all day and tried not to think about it too much and go with my Haliewa game plan which is find a second and third wave. You always want to watch for that huge face but it was hard to tell which waves would be good. My family doesn’t usually make it to events, so that was awesome to see me get a good heat in.”
The day’s action got off to an explosive start as two event frontrunners, Ezekiel Lau (HAW) and Joao Chianca (BRA), squared off against Tahitian threat Mihimana Braye and Round 80 victor John Mel (USA). Lau opened with a 6.40, using his powerful forehand attack, but Mel’s signature backhand flair put him atop the heat heading into the final ten minutes, and Lau found himself in third place, facing elimination.
But, Lau was able to find the backup scores to put him back into an advancing position over Mel. Chianca ultimately took the heat win after making a tactical board change early in the heat which propelled him to a victory.
“It’s a step closer to the dream, it’s where we want to be,” said Chianca. “It’s what we’ve worked so hard for all year so I’m just looking forward to the next round and be confident on my waves. I was actually counting on (making a board change). I was really focused, really confident, and just wanted to do my surfing.”
Former CT competitor, and 2023 CT hopeful, Michael Rodrigues (BRA) led the Brazilian contender charge on day two with a powerful performance. Rodrigues overtook a heavy-hitting heat, including fellow CT hopeful Ian Gentil (HAW), Round of 80 standout Cole Houshmand (USA), and Australian’s aerial threat Jordan Lawler. The back-and-forth heat witnessed multiple lead changes heading into the dying minutes, but Rodrigues locked in a 14.04 heat total with his final attempts. Lawler earned an excellent 8.70 to advance behind Rodrigues, and now Gentil awaits CT confirmation pending results.
“It means a lot for me to make that first heat, and I think for everybody it’s pretty hard in that first one,” said Rodrigues. “I came to Hawaii with only one mission, put the jersey on and try my best no matter what. That’s all I want to do and this event is super important for me.”
Australians, and former CT competitors, Morgan Cibilic and Liam O’Brien also survived their Round of 64 matchup against event threat Eli Hanneman (HAW) and Challenger Series contender Matheus Navarro (BRA). O’Brien and Cibilic are both on the bubble of qualifying once again for the CT but they will need to have a solid finish here at Haleiwa to do so and started with a solid showing as Cibilic earned the win.
“Pretty much the whole time I’ve been here it’s either been really big or really small so in the end this 6’0 has been performing for me and I stuck with it,” said Cibilic. “(Qualification) is definitely there, I can feel the nerves and I’ve been in this situation a few times. We have some Aussies traveling together and we’ve been having a laugh about it and it’s part of the job so we’re just here for a good time.”
Spoiler Performances Ensue, More 2023 CT Dreams Await Confirmation
CT dreams were placed on hold with big efforts from Kalani Ball (AUS) and Mikey McDonaugh (AUS), eliminating top contenders, current No. 6, Ramzi Boukhaim (MOR), and No. 13 Eithan Osborne (USA). Ball’s aggressive forehand led to a 12.87 heat total and McDonaugh’s buzzer-beater displaced Osborne and Boukhiam from an advancing position.
Fellow Australian Chris Zaffis (AUS) provided even more CT qualification drama by helping eliminate Dylan Moffat (AUS) as Maxime Huscenot (FRA) held his advancing spot above Challenger Series threat Crosby Colapinto(USA) in the dying minutes. Now, Moffat and Gentil await their 2023 CT fates as competition continues.
Also making their statements into the Round of 32, the North Shore’s own Shion Crawford and Joshua Moniz (HAW), an in-form Lucas Silveira (BRA), former CT competitors Conner Coffin (USA) and Jesse Mendes (ITA), and Portugal’s Vasco Ribeiro and Frederico Morais took big wins.