For most of the surfers that aspire to make it to the top of the World Surf League standings, the start of a new season and qualifying series events brings new optimism and hope.
The QS series is the first step toward climbing the ladder that leads to the Challenger division before making the Championship Tour. The Jacks's Surfboards Pro is the first stop of the 2023-34 season.
For Huntington Beach surfer Sage Guinaldo, this year's season opener means a lot more.
Guinaldo will be one of 104 men that will hit the lineup at the iconic pier at Huntington Beach when the Jacks Surfboards Pro runs April 6th-9th.
It was just over 6 months ago that he found out he had two herniated discs, in his T8 and T7 bones in his spine. The back problems that plagued him the last three years had hit an all-time worse.
"I was in Indonesia and flew straight to Virginia for the Vans Pro. It was about 20 straight hours on the plane with like no stretching or anything," Guinaldo said. "When I got to Virgnia, I free surfed before my heat and my back went out. It went out on me for Outer Banks, for the Morro Bay event in the 2021 season and for Jacks three years ago, so I'd been dealing with it for a while."
At first, he didn't see a doctor, rather sought help from a chiropractor, and then tried acupuncture. When nothing helped much, he knew it was deeper than he had first thought.
"I had an MRI and there was a chance I'd never walk again if I didn't take care of it right and that was a reality check," he said.
Once the issue was diagnosed, he got together with WSL physical therapist Terry Romine.
"I talked with Terry (last October) about a timeline and my goal was to be back for the Jacks Pro. I really didn't care about Barbados or the Dominican events, but the goal was to be back in the water at the start of April and just wing it and surf the Jacks,"Guinaldo recalled.
"I took it slow. Swam laps in pool, then laps in ocean. Worked on paddling out in the pool then in the ocean. Then started standing up. It was basically like starting over again.
Then I started swimming laps in mid-January and then started surfing in mid-February."
Over the past month, Guinaldo has been seen on a near daily basis at the beach working on his preparation. To watch him, he looks like the Guinaldo that has 3 top 20 QS finishes in his four years doing events (he was 17th in last year's Jacks Pro)
"I'm definitely taking precautions with my training regimen. It's like not lifting heavy weights when I go to the gym and not launching to the air in the flats if not necessary. I'm just playing it by ear, if I do something and it hurts, I just do don't it anymore."
During his time on the sidelines, Guinaldo has spent a lot of time watching the end of the year 2022-23 WSL season events.
One he has been watching with great interest, is his younger brother Luke.
"I've been watching a lot of people surf, especially Luke," he said. "It's been super eye opening and motivating. In high school, he was still a grom and having fun with it. Now, he has graduated from high school and is18 and he's taking it more seriously. Watching his progression is crazy. He was always asking me for advice on turns and airs... now I'm asking him things like arm placement and stuff."
The older Guinaldo has plans on being very active this year on the upcoming QS tour. Following the event at Huntington, the tour travels to Punto Rocas Peru for the Punta Rocas Open and then to Saquarema Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for the Saquarema Surf Festival. He would like to make both of those, but one thing is clear.
The Jack's surfboards Pro is number one on his wish list.
"Jack's is my home break," he said. " Since I moved here from Costa Rica, I've spent countless mornings, coming to surf in the early hours by moonlight, getting here before anyone. Also seeing champions like Kanoa (Igarashi), Zeke (Lau) and the Colapinto brothers (Griffin and Crosby) win. It's been a dream of mine to be chaired up the beach by my friends in front of everyone."
The Jacks Surfboards Pro kicks off Thursday morning on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier.