Stuart edges Kinoshita to take Surfbash crown

KUAU – Michael Stuart rode the momentum of a new sponsorship to his first open men’s win at the 24th annual Ergo/Hi-Tech/Lopez Surfbash on Saturday at Hookipa Beach Park.

Conditions were near perfect after three days of dangerous close-out surf. The Hawaii Surfing Association-sanctioned meet had 114 entries in nine divisions competing in surf faces that ranged from 4 to 10 feet.

Stuart, a 21-year-old from Wailuku, took advantage of the conditions to claim the biggest division with 24 surfers.

“I’m stoked it dropped and was contestable,” Stuart said. “The waves really turned on in the final.

“It was pretty sick back-to-back waves. Anyone could have won that heat. It was a pretty tough lineup out there.”

Two of the judges picked Stuart while a third had Chaz Kinoshita winning. Imai Devault, a Kamehameha Schools Maui junior, was tied with Stuart for second on one sheet while finishing a close third on the other judges’ cards.

All three had contrasting styles. Stuart had a forehand attack with big gouges – throwing up huge spray with his

6-foot-4, 190-pound frame, and then making smooth rail-to-rail wraparound cutbacks into the whitewater. Kinoshita made straight-up vertical backhand snaps through the breaking lips, while Devault was throwing cutback and blowtail reverses along with crisp rail-to-rail surfing.

Stuart picked up a clothing sponsorship the day before the contest from Ergo, one of the event’s sponsors.

“That was crazy, super surprising,” Stuart said. “I guess it kind of put a lot more pressure on me. It motivated me to do better. I’m overwhelmed winning and being part of the team. I’ve never had a main sponsor. It’s crazy how that all kind of lined up.”

King Kekaulike senior Se-rene Gunnison earned her first win at any contest, taking the women’s open title in a split decision over Sierra Lerback.

“I’ve gotten second so many times,” said a smiling Gunnison. “I’ve won heats, but never actually pulled through and won before.

“I’m super stoked. I knew I got a good big one and two more to back it up.”

Gunnison scored highest on an overhead wave on which she made three forehand snaps all the way to the inside.

Logan Bediamol of Haiku and Summer Macedo of Lahaina repeated as boys and girls under-14 winners.