Braden Jones has been chasing waves next to the pier from the time he was 10 years old.
The Pismo Beach native in the past few years has gone from grom to grinder, working to make his way on the World Surf League’s junior and qualifying tours. He’s traveled the globe with the hopes of one day making it to the Champion’s Tour, the pinnacle of pro surfing.
But Jones won’t have to travel far this weekend to compete against some of the best up-and-coming surfers from around the world. He just has to make the short drive from his home Arroyo Grande to his local break to compete in the first-ever Pismo Beach Open, a World Surf League Qualifying Series 1,000 event at the Pismo Beach pier. The event marks the first time a major pro surfing event has been held on the Central Coast since 2015.
“I am stoked to have it here,” Jones said. “The whole town is super pumped.”
Jones, along with a few other Central Coast locals, will be part of a field of 96 surfers descending on the pier from Friday to Sunday for what will be the final event of the season for the Qualifying Series. There will be plenty of international flavor in the mix, too, with surfers flying in from Brazil, Japan and Costa Rica. But the event will feature mostly California surfers, which was the point of bringing the tour to the Central Coast, contest organizer Andy McKay said.
With only three WSL Tour events currently taking place in California, all of which are in Huntington Beach, McKay organized the Pismo Beach Open with the goal of helping California surfers gain WSL points and notoriety without the added burden of costly travel.
“We are trying to help the surfers, help the towns out and put California on the map and show people there is more than just Huntington Beach,” said McKay, who plans to bring the contest back next year.
Santa Barbara resident Kilian Garland, 30, is a veteran of the QS Tour who’s been making money as a surfer for 20 years.
Kilian started on the WSL tour in 2009 and has been slowly climbing the rankings. He finished last season as the No. 1-ranked North American surfer on the QS Tour. Garland, who was raised in Orcutt, is No. 9 in the rankings this year and knows the Pismo break well. He will be one of the favorites to win the contest this weekend and has a chance to repeat as North America QS Regional Champion with a runner-up finish.
“It’s kinda like a dream come true,” Garland said. “My whole career there has never been a major event around here. Tons of pro-ams — those were great — but to have a real rated contest is really special.”
Adding to the local flavor will be Pismo Beach resident Austin Neumann, McKay’s nephew, along with Arroyo Grande native Joel Bishop. Neumann, Bishop and Jones are all part of a young crop of local, college-age surfers trying to make their mark on the WSL Tour. A win at their home break this weekend would mean a piece of a $10,000 purse and valuable WSL points that could lead to a higher ranking and opportunities to enter larger contests down the road.
Jones knows it won’t be easy, but he likes his chances of ending the season on a high note.
“I think (surfing my home break) is an advantage over everybody,” Jones said.
With McKay planning to hold the contest on the north side of the pier, Jones could have an added advantage as a goofy-foot surfer on the steep lefts.
“But even if I bomb, it would be cool to see the other local guys do well,” Jones said.
Pismo Beach Open
When: 20-minute heats begin at 8 a.m. Friday. Times for Saturday and Sunday are to be determined.
How it works: There are three opening rounds followed by the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. The opening rounds will feature 16 heats with two to four surfers in each heat. The surfers are scored on each ride, and the top two scores for each surfer count toward their total score. The top two surfers advance to the next round (in heats with four surfers), and the top score advances in the heats with two surfers (quarterfinals, semifinals) until a champion is crowned.
Surf report: Waves will decrease from 3-4 feet Friday to 1-2 feet Saturday and Sunday, according to Surfline.com.
Watch online: The event will be streamed live on WorldSurfLeague.com.
Surfers to watch: John Mel (Santa Cruz native, No. 4 in the North America Region), Jordy Collins (Carlsbad native, No. 3 in North America Region), Cole Houshmand (16-year-old San Clemente native who’s been making noise on the junior tour).