Photos: ? Brian Bielmann and Rory Chapman | Waterman League
James Casey summarizes his most successful event, so far.
SUNSET BEACH PRO 2016
2016 has been a busy year for me already, I?ve only been home in Australia for about a week, and its almost the end of February. I was lucky enough to head to Sri Lanka on a family surf trip to celebrate the New Year, then head home for a few days before jumping back on a flight to the Canary Islands to under go some race board testing and training with the JP Australia Team.
I managed to bring my surf SUP along to both of these trips and safe to say we got some unreal waves, the Canaries especially was great training for the Sunset Beach Pro.
A week before the waiting period started I headed over to Hawaii, so I could get used to that extra power you only feel in Hawaii and surf and hang with my good mate Jacy.
I arrived on the final day of the Volcom Pipe Pro, and if you didn?t see it or hear about it, it was one of those special days on the North Shore. I managed to score overhead and clean Haleiwa without too much of a crowd out.
The following day I spent the whole day at Sunset, making sure all my boards were feeling good and re-familiarising myself with the line up. We scored that whole week before the contest started and a monster swell was forecast for the first few days of the waiting period.
This monster swell turned out to be Eddie worthy, at least according to the forecast. It was given a green light and it was the talk everywhere. The Sunset Beach Pro wouldn?t run as the swell was too big so everyone flocked to the bay. We woke up at 5am, got on our bikes and started our journey from Waialua to Waimea. We set out as a group but after a few mechanical issues it was clear I wasn?t going to make it there before sunrise, I had a flat tyre and my girlfriends bike had basically started falling apart. We made it to Puuena Point at first light only to realise the ocean was glassy and 3ft. We were almost certain the Eddie would be cancelled, so we rode back to the house, I grabbed my boards and I managed to surf the building swell out at Haleiwa to myself until mid morning, whilst everyone else made the trek back from the No Eddie call at Waimea.
By midday the swell had arrived, with everywhere too big except for some outer reefs and Waimea. I had just picked up my new custom SUP, made for these bigger waves and was keen to test it out so I headed straight for Waimea Bay. There was plenty of water safety out there and it didn?t seem to be too big so I had to paddle out for my first surf at the Bay. I was nervous being out there for the first time to say the least and it didn?t help I was the only one out on a SUP, generally that attracts a bit of stink eye. As I paddled out, I saw legend and home town hero Tom Caroll paddle onto a bomb and as he pulled off he welcomed me, gave me a few pointers and encouraged me onto a few sets. The vibe was unreal out there, everyone was stoked to be out there and each wave seemed to be a party wave with everyone hooting and hollering as you make the famous Waimea drop. I got my fair share of waves out there so I went in and watched the swell build as the sun disappeared into the ocean from the point with my girlfriend, Lana, and good friends Tom and Tarryn King.
The contest started a few days later once the ocean had settled down and we were greeted with solid 6-8ft Sunset with light offshore winds. I managed to get a few waves before the contest started then caddied for my mate Rory Chapman who was in the trials. My heat was on in the afternoon and I didn?t have the easiest first round heat. I had drawn Kai Lenny, who?s worst result out at Sunset was a 2nd place in 7 years, as well as Slater Trout and Jun Adagawa. I knew I needed to surf my best to avoid the repechage round. As the horn sounded I managed to paddle straight onto a set wave. Being the first wave of the contest I was seriously nervous but managed to surf it all the way to the channel. I paddled back out and managed to sneak another set wave under the others and managed to control my nerves a bit better. As I paddled back out my caddy, Rory, told me my first wave was an 8 point ride, I actually didn?t believe him, but knew I had kicked the heat off pretty well as my second wave felt even better than the first. I paddled out the back and waited before taking off a bit late on a set wave and having to paddle back to the channel. Rory told me my second wave was an 8.4, I was in the lead with an 8 and an 8.4, I?d comboed everyone in the heat. Kai managed to fight back scoring a 9 and a 7 but I just managed to get the nod over him. I had kicked off the contest in the perfect way, a heat win and the second highest heat total of the day. I was lucky enough to have my Dad, step mum and sister, as well as my girlfriend Lana there to support me throughout the day, so I was glad I could put on a show for them.
We had a few days rest before the contest kicked off again with a promising building swell from the west, the perfect direction for the point. I surfed before the contest kicked off and actually had one of the worst surfs of my entire Hawaii trip. I was glad I got it out of the way but wasn?t feeling overly confident as the first of the repechage rounds kicked off. As the day went on the swell continued to build and winds stayed light offshore. By midday I had forgotten about my warm up surf and couldn?t wait to get out there in the best conditions I had ever seen at Sunset. Again, I had a tricky draw facing Poenaiki, Slater Trout and Andrea Trinco Feiro. To me Po is one of the best power surfers on tour and I knew if he got a good wave he could easily get a high score. Luckily for me, unlike my earlier surf, I had some seriously good rhythm with the ocean, I got four of the best waves I?ve ever gotten out at Sunset ending up with an 8.6 and a 9.7, the highest heat score of the day and the highest single wave score of the day. It will probably go down as one of my best sessions out at Sunset, I managed a few cover ups and a few turns in what was absolutely buttery conditions! My board was working unreal, I was having an absolute blast and I was through to the Quarter finals!
I had received countless messages from friends and family from home and around the world wishing me luck and people telling me they had put money on me to win the whole thing. I was stoked with everyone backing me but to be honest it wasn?t a place I had ever experienced before. I felt a bit of pressure, I didn?t want to let everyone down and I really wanted to prove to everyone and myself that I really could mix it up with all the top guys and that the first two days of competition weren?t a fluke. Previously, my best result was two years ago at an exhibition event in Morocco where I made it to the semis. I knew I was in position to better this result so I really wanted to make the most of it.
The final day loomed and the faultless conditions and great forecast we had enjoyed in the first week had turned on us. The forecast was for strong winds and a short period swell from the north. Far from ideal conditions but the end of the waiting period seemed to be flat and onshore, so we all agreed that it was best to run it in the windy conditions while there was still a bit of size around. My Quarter final could?ve been a final, Kai Lenny, Poenaiki and Kai Bates. All these guys absolutely rip, some how I blocked out the nerves and managed to get a few waves. It was so windy, there was no way of hearing any scores but I knew that Po and Kai had gotten a few good waves up the point and my mate and caddy, Tom King, said Kai Bates had gotten a barrel on the end bowl. I knew I hadn?t won the heat and to be honest thought I?d be lucky to not have come last with so much talent in the heat. As I got to shore I heard the announcers say Po?s name and then mine, I had made it to the Semi Finals with a pair of sixes just beating Kai Lenny by less than a point. I felt like I had gotten pretty lucky but was determined to do better in the Semi.
My semi didn?t get any easier, again with Po, as well as Fisher Grant and local boy Noa Ginella. I?d watched Fisher and Noa?s heat and they were surfing really well so I knew I needed good waves to get the better of them. I chatted to fellow Aussie competitors Justin ?Frother? Holland and Big Wave Dave Muir about a bit of a heat strategy and we agreed it?d be best to try and pick a couple up on the end bowl then try and wait for a bigger wave up the point. I paddled out for my semi and that whole game plan went out the window, I was sitting way up the point with half the heat gone and I hadn?t caught a single wave. I knew there were good ones out there but I kept being in the wrong spot for them. With about 12 minutes to go I finally caught my first wave of the heat and managed to surf it all the way to the channel. As I paddled back out Tom, mentioned I should probably start getting busy, once I got back out in position I had 6 minutes remaining in the heat. I managed to get a nice one in between the point and the end bowl and got a back up score before getting back out into the line up with about 90 seconds remaining. No decent waves came through so I was hoping the two waves I had caught were going to be enough to send me through to the final. I had no idea what anyone else had caught as I was sitting out the back for most of the heat so I was hoping I?d done enough. As I got back to the beach I was greeted by a big grin from Lana. I had come 2nd behind Po again and made it through to the final with the two waves I had caught, but made everyone very nervous watching on the beach. I promised I wouldn?t do that for the final!
Caio Vaz, last years world champ, and Bernd Roediger, local Maui Boy who was used to the windy conditions, had made it through from the other semi so it was going to be a super tough final. By the time the final started the wind had really picked up, gusting up to 50km/h and making it difficult just to make it into the lineup. I was so nervous I felt like my board had soap on the deck and was tired from the earlier heats but was determined to do finish the contest off well. Jet ski assistance for the final made it easier to get back out but it was still really hard to paddle onto the waves as the wind kept blowing us into the channel. I managed to get two waves in the first 10 minutes but then really struggled to get another decent wave in the next 20 minutes as the wind seemed to get even stronger and the waves even messier. Caio was one with the ocean, always being right in the spot to paddle onto the waves while the rest of us struggled to catch anything. None of us knew what was going on but were just doing our best to try and catch anything out there. I managed to get one more wave towards the end of the heat but was absolutely buggered by the end of it all. We made our way in and the results were announced Caio Vaz 1st, I had placed 2nd, Po 3rd and Bern 4th. My last wave had allowed me to jump from 4th to 2nd right at the end of the heat. While I would?ve loved to win, I was stoked with 2nd place!
Up on the stage Bernd and I managed to reflect on it all, 2 years ago we had been in the trials together, now we were up on the podium.
I was also awarded the stand out performance award for the whole event for the highest single wave score and heat total!
I?m super proud of my performance and thankful to all my friends, family and sponsors, JP-Australia, Catfish Designs, WindSurfnSnow, MindMuscleConnect, Maui Jim, Altitude Australia, Hammer Nutrition, VMG Blades and Breakers Epoxy Board Repairs.