The kick off of the Waterman League's Stand Up Paddle World Tour had an anxious build-up, as athletes from around the world would come together to mingle, compete, and inevitably judge and be judged by their respected peers, and the North Shore would be host to yet another event close to others by date, yet distanced by medium... SUP. The Sunset Beach Pro, set to be the most groundbreaking event for this incredibly versatile sport exploding in every direction bears the significance of holding the first event of the Tour in Hawaii at one of its most celebrated breaks. Greeted by 8 - 10 ft perfect Sunset and 32 of Hawaii's most promising talents, the Hulakai Trials has set the standard for World Tour qualification.
The assembled athletes ages ranged from as young as 12, to athletes in their late forties/early fifties - a true and exciting representation of the sheer scope of the sport: esteemed and vastly experienced Waterman battling it out against the new generation.
As the heats progressed in what can only be called epic Sunset, the assembled crowds were wowed by the spectacular action displayed in each and every heat. Stand outs in the Hulakai Trials were undoubtedly the youth, in the form of Slater Trout (15, Maui) and Riggs Napoleon, at just 12 years old (Oahu), but also our Big Island contingent in the form of Hulakai's very own, Kalani Kahalioumi and Kainoa Hauanio. Also delivering memorable performances were Eraldo Gueiros from Brazil and Haley Fiske from California.
It ended up being the young Slater Trout's day, dominating every heat he competed in and winning convincingly in the epic conditions, with Kainoa finishing close behind in 2nd, Kalani in 3rd and Eraldo Guieros in 4th. Of particular note though was Riggs Napoleon - at just 12 years old he shocked the crowds not only with his ability, but his no fear approach to riding, reminiscent of his father, Aaron, winner of the Ku Ikaika Big wave challenge back in 2008.
We then went straight into the main event, as the Top 8 from the Trials event moved forward to join some of Hawaii's most celebrated legends, the wildcards for this unique event: from Brian Keaulana, Mel Pu'u to Robby Naish and Kamaki Worthington, the first round was a roster of some of the world's most respected Watermen. Four heats of intense action that climaxed with some epic rides from Aaron Napolean and Kekoa Auwae, clearly set the standard for what is to come with the Main event: those that advanced will join the established Top 24 of the Stand Up World Tour.
The first major surprise was Brian Keaulana, who took a bad fall on his first wave, causing him to have to be absent from the rest of the heat, allowing Robin Johnston and Andrew LaGreco to advance. Robby Naish and Kamaki Worthington advanced in the next heat, and then it was the experience versus youth heat, with Kai Lenny (17) and Slater Trout (15) taking on Mel Puu and Eraldo Gueiros. It was to continue to be the youths day, with Kai and Slater advancing through to the next round. Finally, it was also to be a Napoleon family day, with Aaron following his son's example, dominating the heat along with fellow west side athlete, Kekoa Auwae. It was however, the end of little Riggs' run, who despite logging one great wave, was not able to get the other necessary to advance.
We are now on hold here at Sunset Beach, as we await the next big swell that will come through on Wednesday of this week.