Billy Kemper, Mark Healey, Kai Lenny, Ian Walsh, Albee Layer, Lucas Chianca and six others (full list below) advanced to Saturday’s semifinals at the World Surf League (WSL) Pe’ahi Challenge on Maui.
A long-interval swell produced 25- to 45-foot waves with the occasional monstrous barrel at Pe’ahi, also known as Jaws, on Maui’s north shore. Anticipating sets was challenging in the long-period swell, as waves were barely perceptible until they were standing up on the reef.
Unlike the Championship Tour, it is not necessary to complete a wave to score well in the Big Wave Tour. Judges prioritize commitment to the biggest waves and to critical drops when scoring. The top two wave scores are counted, with the highest score doubled.
In Heat 1, Mark Healey and Billy Kemper both posted high scores through huge barrels that they did not make. “If he would have made it, that would have been one of the best backhand barrels ever at Jaws,” Shane Dorian said of Healey’s wave.
Kemper has won the Pe’ahi Challenge the last two years, and was not shy this week in telling SURFER he is confidently pursuing a third consecutive victory.
Some of the advancers withstood particularly bad wipeouts. Kemper broke a board and hurt his leg, Cristian Morello hit the bottom and required stitches on his knee, and Makuakai Rothman went over the falls and took his time recovering on the jet ski before returning to the lineup.
Ian Walsh advanced in Heat 3 via what was estimated to be an eight-times-overhead bomb, the biggest wave of the day, and was fortunate to pick one off early in what ended up being the least consistent heat. Walsh topped his heat, followed by Kai Lenny and Ryan Hipwood.
Jamie Mitchell and Albee Layer made it through Heat 4, but could not outscore up-and-comer Lucas Chianca who gave a commanding performance on both of his waves.
Two of the most established big-wave surfers missed out on their heats. Shane Dorian passed up on his spot citing back troubles, opening the way for Danilo Couto, who advanced to semifinals with one of the longest rides of the day.
Grant “Twiggy” Baker missed his heat by one hour due to flight delays, and seemed visibly disappointed, apologizing in an interview to those at home who were looking forward to seeing a South African compete. His spot was taken by Puerto Escondido local Jimel Corzo.
Semifinals and finals will run Saturday morning and will be broadcast live on WorldSurfLeague.com.
The women’s Pe’ahi Challenge will also run Saturday, with six athletes competing in one final heat, a shift from last year’s format of two semi-finals and a final. Paige Alms will try to defend her title against other experienced Jaws riders like Keala Kennelly and Andrea Moller.
Here is the full list of semifinals competitors:
Tomorrow’s women’s finals heat:
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