Kehu Butler and Billy Stairmand bow out of the 2023 Challenger Series with narrow Round of 64 exits at the final stop of the tour, the Saquarema Pro held in Brazil.
More and more the Challenger Series is looking way closer to the Championship Tour than it is to any Qualifying Series events. Some of the big names to fall in the early rounds include former CT surfers.
The Corona Saquarema Pro Presented by Banco do Brasil, Stop No. 6 on the 2023 World Surf League Challenger Series was even more intense – it was the last gasp for so many surfers. Both Billy and Kehu were chasing an impossible dream in the last round. The CT qualification line sits at 14,630 points with the final round to play. Kehu, ranked 54th, has 3900 points. Billy, ranked 72nd, has 1900 points. Even a win at Praia de Itaúna wouldn’t be enough.
In his opening round at Praia de Itaúna Kehu came out blazing, posting a 12.90 to win his first heat and book himself a spot in the Round of 64.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I’m stoked. Waves are pretty fun, a little tricky,” he smiled afterwards. “But the water’s warm at least. This is the last event of the year, so I’ll just go out and have fun.”
Kehu said he was feeling good and his head space was good.
“I’m just cruising and here to support the boys,” he adds. “I know there are a couple of big heats going down for the boys from my region, so I’ll be giving them all my support and hopefully surfing well myself. Thanks to everyone for watching. Up the All Blacks, eh?”
Billy managed to secure second behind Australia’s Sheldon Simkus to advance to the Round of 64.
Heat 7 didn’t go Kehu’s way. He, alongside former CT surfer Morgan Cibilic, found themselves left short by a narrow margin. Billy’s Heat 16 followed a similar pattern with Billy finishing slightly adrift of Brazil’s Alejo Muniz and USA’s Cole Houshmand.
“I’m proud to represent New Zealand on this series and take our country along for the ride,” Billy told his many followers after the event. “I’m not gonna lie. It was a tough year for me on the Changas. The level is so high and it comes down to the smallest of margins in this series. I learnt a lot, I tried my best and it just wasn’t my year.”
And, with Paige and Saffi both out with injury, that drew our Kiwi surf athletes’ 2023 Challenger Series campaigns to an end.
Kehu Butler 2023 CS Season: Rank 54th
Billy Stairmand 2023 CS Season: Rank 72nd
The pace for Billy is far from over as he switches his attention to the 2024 Olympics.
“It is all eyes on the Paris 2024 Olympic Games where I’ll be competing alongside the best in the world,” Billy explains. “I’m looking forward to getting into a good routine of training and preparing for Tahiti. Hopefully, I’ll get a few trips there before the Games, work with some epic people and enjoy the whole process. I’m looking forward to working hard for another goal.”
Billy said he was very thankful for everyone involved in his career.
“Not many people get to do what I do so I appreciate every aspect of it: the wins, the losses and the learnings,” Billy offers. “There is still more to come for Bilbo though. Let’s get it.”