Siheung Korea Open raises the bar for wave pool comps

The Siheung Korea Open ran at Wave Park in Siheung, South Korea from November 17-19, 2023. The event was unusual for a couple of reasons: One, it snowed during competition and two, it’s part of the WSL’s new affinity for wave pool events.

The first-ever Asia regional QS to be held in a wave basin was won by Amuro Tsuzuki (JPN) and Keijiro Nishi (JPN), and the first-ever LQS to be held in a wave basin globally was won by Natsumi Taoka (JPN) and Kai Hamase (JPN).

Power came up against precision in the Women’s QS 3000 Final, as Tsuzuki, the Olympic Bronze Medalist, faced her great friend Minami Nonaka (JPN) for their third QS head-to-head match-up, the first time in a Final. The raw power of Tsuzuki won out, delivering a fourth QS victory to the 22-year-old, who has made the Final in every QS she has entered in the past two seasons.

Both surfers built on their scores with each wave surfed in the Final, until a fall from Nonaka on her fourth wave gave Tsuzuki the upper hand, freeing her up to throw caution to the wind on her sixth and final wave. Ripping through multiple aggressive backhand turns with speed, Tsuzuki earned a near-perfect 9.5 (out of a possible 10), the highest single wave score of the event, and the highest heat total of the Women’s QS 3000, 18.10 (out of a possible 20).

Sky Brown of Great Britain surfs in Heat 4 of the Quarterfinals at the Siheung Korea Open. Photo by Cait Miers/WSL.

“I feel amazing,” Tsuzuki said. “I feel so happy right now. Also, I’m happy to compete with Minami, she’s my best friend. This is huge for my memories.”

The Men’s QS 3000 Final came down to the wire, with Keijiro Nishi (JPN) and Kyan Yang (USA) pulling out all the stops. The early advantage went to Yang, who opened his first-ever QS final with two rides in the 8-point range, before Nishi, in only his second final, found his flow and earned a 9.10.

Yang, a Korean-American from Encinitas, California, rose to the occasion, pushing the deep bottom-turns and fins-free backhand hooks that had provided excellent scores throughout the event to the absolute limit to earn a 9.40, the highest single wave score of the Men’s QS 3000. Nishi fell on two more waves in a row before again locking into rhythm, blasting the fins on each turn, before his signature fin-ditch on the final section sent the crowd in a frenzy. A 9.15 for that wave gave Nishi the highest heat total of the event and left Yang needing to perform on his sixth and final opportunity, which he did, until he pushed slightly too hard on the last turn, leaving Nishi to win his second QS, the biggest victory of his career and first since 2017.

“Thank you so much for all the support,” Nishi said. “I am so happy to take a win in this first ever event.”

Keijiro Nishi of Japan after winning the final of the Siheung Korea Open. Photo by Cait Miers/WSL

Natsumi Taoka (JPN) remains undefeated in the current iteration of the LQS. The 28-year-old won her third LQS in a row, her sixth overall, as she seeks to retain her place on the Longboard Tour. After convincing heat wins in both the Quarterfinals and the Semifinals, Taoka faced her stiffest competition yet in the Final with Dhea Novitasari (INA) finding her best form of the event to bring a strong challenge to the reigning regional champion. The Japanese competitor was one step ahead the whole way however, and neither surfer was contested by Sakura Inoue (JPN) or Shiela Mae Convicto (PHI), who finished third and fourth respectively.

“I’m so happy to get first place,” Taoka said. “It’s my first time coming here. The wave is totally different from nature and the first time I was getting nervous, but I spent a lot of time practicing here and I really love the wave.”

After competing in WSL events on boards both short and long for over a decade, Kai Hamase (JPN) found his first victory in the Men’s LQS. Hamase’s precise, clean surfing has kept him on top of the field in Asia for many years, but a win at this level had eluded him until now.

Kanoa Palmiano of Korea in Heat 1 of the Semifinals. A local standout and one of the few surfers sponsored by a wave pool, he eventually lost out to Kai Hamase. Photo by Cait Miers/WSL.

A strong start from Kanoa Palmiano (KOR) gave the appearance that an upset might be in order, however. The 15-year-old local took charge over the more experienced Japanese competitors, Hamase and Taka Inoue (JPN), but a stumble on Palmiano’s second wave gave Hamase the opening.

The two went back and forth with the lead one more time, but a pair of 9’s from Hamase sealed the deal as he collected easily the highest heat total of the Men’s LQS to claim the win, leaving Palmiano in second, Inoue third and event standout Kim Dongkyun (KOR) fourth.

“I’m happy to win this contest,” Hamase said. “I had a great time here. It was so difficult for me [to adapt to the wave], but I surfed well.”