Official competition at the O’Neill Highland Open by Swatch 2007, one of only eight 6 Star Prime World Qualifying Series (WQS) events in world, kicked off on Wednesday. With strong offshore winds and a more consistent and overhead swell forecast throughout the day at Brims, contest organizers were keen to complete the round after Tuesday’s layday.
With US aerial specialist Dane Reynolds emerging from the water in 1st place following the sound of the buzzer at the end of the first of 24 4-man heats, it was clear that Highland Open Contest Director Matt Wilson was happy to get contest proceedings up and running. He said: “It’s always great to get the event underway and settle into that event routine once the 1st heat surfers are in the water. We decided to kick things off at surfer’s right of The Point, with early heats extended to 30 minutes because things are still looking a little bit inconsistent as the tide pushes out. From 9am onwards, we’re expecting even better conditions as the tide fills in, and that should allow us to switch back to 25 minute heats when we eventually move a couple of hundred yards to The Bowl in the afternoon.”
During the course of the day, impressive 6ft surf and quick-fire barrels provided the gathered spectators with all the action they could have possibly wished for. One of the standout moments from the morning’s session included Sam Lamiroy’s dramatic qualification into Round 2. Having occupied 3rd place for much of his heat, the UK surfer’s last-second wave proved just enough to push him into 2nd place and through to the next round.
Speaking from the barnacle-covered rock-shelf immediately after his heat, the O’Neill team rider was buzzing with adrenaline: “Wow! I was absolutely nowhere with about 5 minutes to go – I only had one wave under my belt, and one that wasn’t that exceptional for that matter,” said Lamiroy. “I wasn’t too sure if that last wave was going to count or not as you can’t really hear anything when you’re out there because it’s so windy today. As it turns out, I managed to squeeze in a couple of turns at the death and that made all the difference. There’s a fair amount of pressure on me as a UK surfer, so I’m pretty relieved to make it through to the next round!”
Other surfers making a big impression on the judges and spectators included Australian duo Yadin Nicol and James Athorn. Both surfers tore it up under the clearing skies, nailing a series of technical maneuvers in the most critical parts of the wave. Both were duly rewarded with the two highest scored waves and two highest combined totals of the day, with Nicol sealing the highest combined total of 16.7 thanks to an incredible final wave score of 9.17.
With all 24 heats from the Round of 144 now done and dusted, we’ll be turning our attention to the Round of 96 first thing on Thursday morning, where seeded riders including the likes of reigning champion Russell Winter and current WQS ratings leaders – including Portugal’s Tiago Pires, Brazil’s Neco Padaratz and South Africa’s on-form wonderkid Jordy Smith – will come up against the top two qualifiers from each of today’s 1st Round heats.
One thing is certain: the battle for the winner’s 3000 WQS ratings points and the lion’s share of the $125,000 total prize-money is very much ON. For a full breakdown of results and to catch all the highlights via daily webcasts, check www.oneilleurope.com/highlandopen