Kaniela Stewart and Sophia Culhane Win in El Salvador
Waikiki Continues to Dominate as Longboard World Tour Regular Season Comes to a Close
The Longboard World Tour wrapped up its regular season today at El Sunzal in El Salvador, and as it has all season, Waikiki dominated. After compelling wins by Kaniela Stewart and Kai Sallas in the first two events, the men’s field came into El Salvador completely under the control of South Shore surfers.
Kelis Kaleopaa (also a Waikiki local) started the year out with a win over fellow Oahu resident Honolua Blomfeld, with Sophia Culhane (yet another Town local) placing third. Meanwhile, Honolua backed up her second-place result at Huntington Beach with a third place in Australia, which moved her up to first on the rankings as the tour traveled to Central America.
If anyone expected anything else besides absolute Hawaiian dominance in El Salvador, they were quickly disappointed. Once again, Kaniela Stewart styled his way into the final, where he faced off against yet another Waikiki local in the young upstart, John Michael Van Hohenstein. Kani ended up with yet another decisive victory, moving him way out in front of the rest of the field as the regular season came to a close.
Meanwhile, the women’s final was also an all-Waikiki affair, although this time it was Sophia Culhane who came out on top, with Kelis Kaleopaa finishing runner up. That result moved Kelis into pole position coming into the world championship event at First Point, Malibu, while Sophia moved into equal second place, tied with former world champion Soleil Errico.
The top eight rated surfers on both the men's and women’s tours now head to Southern California, where they will face off in a one-day world title showdown. Joining Kaniela in the men’s title race are Kai Sallas, Taylor Jensen, Declan Wyton, Ben Skinner, Eduoard Delpero, Rogelio Jr. Esquievel, and Tony Silvagni. Round one will see Silvagni, Esquievel, and Delpero facing off in a single-elimination clash, with the winner moving to round two, where they will surf against Ben Skinner and Declan Wyton. The winner of that heat will face off against Waikiki godfather Kai Sallas, then the winner of that heat will surf against Kaniela Stewart in a best-of-three format for the world title.
The women’s format will be very similar, although it remains to be seen who will be granted the second seed (considering Culhane and Errico are tied with equal points and identical results). Along with Kaleopaa, Errico, and Culhane, the showdown will feature Honolua Blomfeld, Alice Lemoigne, Chloe Calmon, Rachael Tilly, and Mason Schremmer. Heat one will see Schremmer, Tilly, and Calmon surf in a sudden-death heat, with the winner moving on to heat two (while the second and third are eliminated). The winner of heat one will surf against Lemoigne and Blomfeld in heat two, with the winner facing off against either Culhane or Errico in heat three. The winner of that heat surfs heat four against the second-rated surfer, with the winner then moving on to a best-of-three clash against Kaleopaa for the world title.
While this might seem confusing, the ramifications for Waikiki are actually quite simple: The top two rated surfers on both the men's and women’s tours are from Town, which means that both finals will feature at least one Waikiki surfer fighting for the title—and there’s a good chance the second contender on each tour will be from Town as well!
If I were a betting man, I’d put all my money on the trophy coming home to Town next month. As far as I can see, the only question is if it will be the young upstart (Kaniela) or his mentor who win for the men, and which young athlete (Kaleopaa or Culhane) will win for the ladies. Either way, prepare to celebrate!