Updated: September 27, 2023
Jackson Bunch of Maui, Hawaiʻi took home the title at the World Surf League’s Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro, becoming the Hawaiʻi/Tahiti Nui QS Regional Champion in the process. The event is part of the men’s Qualifying Series 1,000.
Bunch took the title in two-to-three foot, clean conditions, emerging victorious over Mihimana Braye of France. This marked the end of Hawaiʻi/Tahiti Nui’s 2022/23′ season and Challenger Series competitors are finalized after Bunch’s win.
Bunch got a quick start to put pressure on Braye early on with a 10.33 (out of a possible 20) heat total. The newly crowned Hawaiʻi/Tahiti Nui QS Regional Champion then went on to unleash his backhand attack under Braye’s priority and notch a near-excellent 7.50 to put the Tahitian into a combination situation, meaning he needed two new scores to equal Bunch, at the halfway mark, according to the WSL.
Braye answered back with a 7.00 of his own before Bunch responded with one more opportunity in their exchange, posting the best score of finals day with an 8.93 and closing out the heat to earn his maiden QS win, according to the WSL.
“I can’t believe it, it’s the best way to end the season,” said Bunch told the WSL. “The waves were a bit slow, but I got a few really fun waves and I’m really happy to take the win. It was a good [final]. I got lucky that both of my high scoring waves were under priority which he never went on so just tried to surf it as best as I could.”
“A massive day for Bunch started in a Quarterfinal clash with Challenger Series hopeful Sheldon Paishon (HAW), as the winner of the heat had the opportunity to claim the regional title. Bunch took an impressive win before going on to take control of his Semifinal affair with a 7.67 right away and then backed it up with a 7.57 just over the halfway mark to force Luke Swanson(HAW) into needing a near-perfect 9.54. Now, The Pāʻia, Maui, competitor turns his focus to the 2023 Challenger Series,” the WSL reports.
“For one of Tahiti’s own, Braye, the runner-up was bittersweet after a brilliant run through the event. Braye’s early lead in Semifinal, Heat 1 earned him a 7.57 over Maui’s Kai Paula (HAW), but nearly slipped away as the minutes dwindled with Paula’s 12.90 heat total holding firm. Rangiroa gifted Braye one last opportunity under the five-minute mark that the Tahitian capitalized on for a 5.60 and a crucial heat win before his Final showdown unfolded,” according to the WSL.
“I wasn’t in the rhythm, Jackson had a better strategy and he was trying to build some scores,” Braye told the World Surf League. “I got caught [in the middle] actually. My strategy was to wait for the set but I just wasn’t in rhythm and I did my best. You always want to win so I’m a little disappointed but thank you to everyone and onto the next.”
Braye now prepares for the start of WSL Europe’s 2023/24′ QS season and his opportunity to rejoin the Challenger Series elite, according to the WSL.
Notable Finishes For Luke Swason and Kai Paula With Semifinal Appearances
“This event was critical for Kai Paula as the Hāna, Maui, competitor needed a result if he wanted to see himself join the Challenger Series elite – and he did just that. Paula’s advancement into the Semifinals pushed himself past Paishon, with Paishon needing to keep the pace, and, with his Quarterfinal loss to Bunch, Paula’s Semifinal appearance was enough to secure his spot,” the WSL reports.
Final 2022/23 Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Rankings:
1. Jackson Bunch (HAW) 2,095 points
2. Eli Hanneman (HAW) 1,550 points
3. Joshua Moniz (HAW) 1,500 points
4. Shion Crawford (HAW) 1,350 points
5. Kai Paula (HAW) 1,310 points
6. Sheldon Paishon (HAW) 1,240 points
7. Kai Martin (HAW) 1,150 points
Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Final Results:
1 – Jackson Bunch (HAW) 16.43 1,000 points
2 – Mihimana Braye (FRA) 13.60
Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Semifinal Results:
Heat 1: Mihimana Braye (FRA) 13.17 DEF. Kai Paula (HAW) 12.90
Heat 2: Jackson Bunch (HAW) 15.24 DEF. Luke Swanson (HAW) 10.87
Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Quarterfinal Results:
Heat 1: Mihimana Braye (FRA) 13.10 DEF. Brodi Sale (HAW) 12.46
Heat 2: Kai Paula (HAW) 11.83 DEF. Heiarii Williams (PYF) 0.00
Heat 3: Luke Swanson (HAW) 12.50 DEF. Enrique Ariito (PYF) 10.16
Heat 4: Jackson Bunch (HAW) 13.10 DEF. Sheldon Paishon (HAW) 8.83
For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.