The 6th annual Jacks Surfboards Pro 3000 at Huntington Beach kicked off the World Surf League Qualifying Series season over the weekend with over 140 surfers hoping to get off to a fast start on their quest to climb the ladder in the WSL.
When the last horn sounded, it was women's defending champion Sawyer Lindblad going back-to-back and Santa Cruz veteran John Mel that stood victorious.
For Lindblad, it was a warmup for the Challenger Series, a spot she earned by finishing number one in the 2022-23 QS rankings. She spent 2022 on the Challenger and finished 12th in the point standings in her quest to crack the top 5 that made the Championship Tour.
For Mel, it was a start to what he hopes is a path back to the Challenger, where he spent some time in 2022.
The 23-year-old Mel, son of former big wave champion and current WSL broadcaster Peter Mel, finished 12th on the QS standings last year.
The top 7 qualified for a spot on the 2023-24 Challenger season and while Mel fell short of that, the new season beginning was a chance to get right back on the chase.
" I knew this was a reset for this year so coming into the first event, I wasn't going to put too much pressure on myself," a relieved Mel said. " I was never feeling any pressure and I been training really good for it, so I'm glad the way it turned out and stoked the way I felt the whole event."
"The key was just staying focused, going back to my breathing that's all it really was just having belief in myself and belief that the waves would come to me," Mel said about the four-day event. " People that do the best out here, are the ones that were getting the waves so luckily it went my way."
This was the first QS win for Mel since his win at Pismo Beach in January of 2022.
The win did not come easy against San Clemente's Cole Houshmand.
Mel got the best of the first exchange between the two in the final, with his 6.60 first wave giving him the lead over Houshmand's 6.00 attempt.
Later Houshmand took the advantage with a backup score of 5.60, putting Mel in the chasing position.
Finally in the late minutes of the championship, Mel caught a wave and made the most of it. Needing a 5.00, he nailed a 5.10 to take the lead and hold on as Houshmand's last attempt fell short of the needed mark.
" That wave wasn't an amazing one. I knew I had to get into the heat so I just surfed it as hard as I could," Mel said in his post heat beach interview. " I knew it would be right there on the border with the score, but it came in enough and then I just prayed there were no more waves. Cole is such a good surfer I knew he could get something."
Mel got to the finals with a last second win over Alan Cleland. His 7.67 in the closing minutes was enough for a 14.00 heat total to Cleland's 12.77.
There wasn't as much drama on the women's side.
Last year's Jacks winner Lindblad put up an early 9.50 wave in her battle with Bella Kenworthy, and she amassed a 16.83 heat total to take the win.
Lindblad and Kenworthy finished 1st and 3rd respectively in last year's QS standings and both are headed to the Challenger Series opener next month in Australia.
"I was just having fun out there and trying to be on the best waves. 2023 has been really good to me and I just wanted to keep the ball rolling," said Lindblad, who made the final of every event she surfed in the season. " I'm excited to go back to Australia, it's one of my favorite places so this was a practice for that, and I'm really happy. Jacks has been a great event for me."
Kenworthy made the final by topping Kirra Pinkerton 11.33 to 8.87 in her semi heat, while Lindbald topped Ella McCaffray in the other semi final, 11.46 to 6.50.
Top 4 finishers in the 2023 Jacks Surfboards Pro
1st - John Mel $8,000, 3000 tour points
2ns - Cole Houshmond $4,000, 2340 pts
3rd - Michael Dunphy, $2,000 , 1825 pts
Alan Cleland, $2,000, 1825 pts
1st - Sawyer Lindblad $8,000, 3000 pts
2nd - Bella Kenworthy $4,000 2340 pts
3rd - Ella McCaffray $2,000, 1825 pts
Kirra Pinkerton $2,000, 1825 pts
Two more QS events are scheduled for April with the Punta Rocas Open in Peru April 13th-16th and the Saquarema Surf Festival in Brazil April 24-30th.