South African surfer Steven Sawyer has been crowned the 2018 World Surf League, World Longboard Champion at the Taiwan Open of Surfing, defeating long-boarding legend Kai Sallas from Hawaii in clean, one metre waves at Jinzun Harbour in Taitung.
The 24-year-old from Jeffreys Bay was on fire all event but saved his best performances for the final day, posting excellent heat totals in all three heats, including a near-perfect 9.50 – out of 10– single wave score in the semi-finals, the highest of the entire event.
Sawyer’s combination of traditional and progressive long-boarding manoeuvres were impeccable, as he went one better than his runner-up finish at the 2016 World Longboard Championship.
“2016 was my second year at the World Championships and I don’t think I was ready or prepared to win. This year I was definitely ready,” Sawyer said.
“I still pinch myself when I surf against guys like Kai Sallas, Taylor Jensen and Harley Ingleby, they are all my heroes so competing against them is surreal.
“I was watching Kai all week and he was looking to be the guy to beat so when I came up against him in the final I was really nervous. It was all good though, as I had such an incredible crew cheering me on from the beach that got me really pumped up to perform.”
Sawyer, who is also an accomplished shortboard competitor having won a WSL Qualifying Series event and earning a wildcard into the 2017 J-Bay Open Championship Tour event, was competing on a surfboard shaped by his father that seemed to suit the waves of Taiwan perfectly.
He now joins a select group of South African born WSL World Champions that includes Shaun Thompson, Wendy Botha, Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker and Jordy Smith.
“My dad has been shaping me incredible boards recently and they worked so well all event. This is my second time to Taiwan and it is such an amazing place with amazing waves, I think it’s the best surf trip I have ever done. Now it’s become even more special for me,” said Sawyer, who had the massive crowd supporting him on the beach.
On his way to the final, Sawyer took down the reigning three-time WSL World Longboard Champion Taylor Jensen from USA in their semi-final encounter and former Taiwan Open winner Tony Silvagni also from USA in the quarter-finals.
Sawyer’s fellow WSL Africa representatives in the Men’s and Women’s World Longboard Championships were eliminated earlier in the event with Sam Christianson from Durban advancing to Round 3 before ending his debut campaign in equal 13th place overall.
Alfonzo Pieters from Muizenberg and Chrystal Hulett from St Francis Bay were both ousted in Round 2 with Pieters finishing equal 25th in the men’s event and Hulett equal 13th among the women in her maiden world title event.
Men’s Final Results:
Steven Sawyer (RSA) 16.10 2.
Kai Sallas (HAW) 15.10