After six second-round exits in eight events, nobody expected Hawaii's Keanu Asing to seriously compete with the world's best at this year's Quiksilver Pro. Fortunately for us neutrals, the 2016 World Surf League has consistently hurled expectations out the window with blatant disregard for form, history, or anything else you'd normally use to gauge somebody's chances at winning a world tour event. Fortunately for Keanu, he won.
Keanu's win in France is special. Before today, he'd never made it so far as a quarter-final in his WSL career. Last year he avoided relegation from the league by the skin of his teeth, claiming a pair of unlikely 9th-place finishes in the final two events to escape what had earlier seemed a certainty. The talent was always obvious – he's only 23 – but the results just wouldn't come. Plenty tipped him for a breakthrough year, but he began this season with four consecutive exits at the earliest elimination heat. In France, he smashed Kelly Slater, John John Florence and Gabriel Medina on his way to victory, and looked every bit the world title contender. How quickly things can change.
With all eyes on the usual contenders, Keanu crept his way through the event with minimal fuss. He topped the first round over Kelly Slater and Kanoa Igarashi, making for a rare automatic third-round appearance, where he was met with world number 9, Adrian Buchan. Asing hit his stride, busting out a solid 7.67 ride on his penultimate wave to overtake Ace and keep the dream alive.
After a tight fourth-round heat involving defending world champion Adriano De Souza, Asing ended up face-to-face with fellow dark horse Stu Kennedy in the fifth round. It was another nail-bitingly late win, this time courtesy of a final-wave score of 6.5, which saw him win the heat by just 0.47 of a point. His next win was even narrower – a 0.37 point escape from the clutch of Matt Banting in the quarter-finals – and all of a sudden Keanu was a real contender. Next stop: world number 1, John John Florence.
"I’m just elated, this feeling is so surreal, to be here now in the semis is a dream come true," Asing stated following qualification for the semi-final. “I’ve always dreamt of being on this tour, so actually making it to the semis with the best surfers in the world is pretty amazing." He could hardly have imagined what was to come.
Almost like clockwork, it was another late triumph – this time thanks to a final-wave score of 8.27. The surfing wasn't flashy, but it was enough. Powerful turns, stylish carves and impeccable judgement were the aim of the game for Asing, especially in the relatively mediocre conditions provided toward the end of the event. The conditions were difficult, though, and it showed as John John struggled to piece together a response. This was Keanu's event.
The final matched Asing with world number 2 and defending event champion Gabriel Medina, who looked lost in the uncomfortable conditions. It took Medina eleven waves to muster a score higher than 4, while Asing's smart wave selection and red-hot confidence allowed him to break away with an early, and eventually unassailable, lead. Keanu comfortably claimed the unlikeliest of victories. He now looks certain to avoid relegation for another year, and will certainly look to draw on his new-found confidence, belief and form during the final two events of the season.
For the Australian contenders, it was another case of the underdog pulling through. Perpetual dark horse Stu Kennedy had another impressive run to round 5, while Matt Banting, Julian Wilson and Kai Otton were the Aussies to reach a quarter-final berth. It was a disappointing event for Matt Wilkinson, who's third-round exit at the hands of Kai Otton probably ended his realistic hopes of a maiden world title, while Joel Parkinson joined Kelly Slater in a round 2 elimination.
1st: Keanu Asing (HAW)
2nd: Gabriel Medina (BRA)
3rd: John John Florence (HAW)
3rd: Kolohe Andino (USA)
5th: Matt Banting (AUS)
5th: Filipe Toledo (BRA)
5th: Julian Wilson (AUS)
5th: Kai Otton (AUS)
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