March 6, 2008 : – – New Zealand’s only professional junior surfing event got off to a blistering start in Taranaki yesterday, as over 60 of Australasia’s hottest talent contested the opening rounds of the $13,000 Billabong Pro Junior Series.
The fifth event of the overall ASP Australasian Series, the Billabong Pro Junior is open to surfers aged 20/Under and provides crucial points towards determining the eventual series champions. It has attracted surfers from across the Tasman and as far a field as Tahiti and South Africa.
The long right hand point break of Stent Road, dished out clean 1m (2-3ft) waves for round one and two of the junior men’s and round one of the junior women’s. The event is completely mobile in the Taranaki region.
While the international surfers are tipped as favourites in the prestigious event it was Mount Maunganui surfer Tim O’Connor, 18, who came out firing on day one, progressing through two heats to book a spot in the final 12 surfers.
A former U/16 national champion, O’Connor notched up the second highest scoring wave of the day in his round two exchange, an 8.60 out of 20.00 to record a comfortable win over Madison Williams (Coffs Harbour) and eliminate Nick Riley (Fairlight) and Sam Wrench (Ulladulla).
“It was pretty hard out there, I just sat and waited for the better sets because the little ones were right on the rocks,” said O’Connor. “Some of the kiwi’s were stoked that there were only 48 surfers in the draw but those 48 are the top level guys who can afford to come over here and compete, and who can get those big results.”
The stylish natural footer secured his U/16 national title in Taranaki and will need to draw on past experience when he faces up against current ASP Australasian ratings leader Stuart Kennedy (Lennox Head) and the super talented Jayke Sharp (Coffs Harbour) in round three.
“This event is great for the young local kids who only surf in the New Zealand contests,” he said. “It gives them a chance to have a shot at beating the Aussie guys and all the top guys that we see in the magazines.” The only other Kiwi through to the final 12 surfers is Richard Christie (Gisborne).
Top seeded surfer Kennedy, 18, who has been the standout performer of the 2008 series, progressed unchallenged into the final 12 surfers with an impressive display of on-rail and above the lip surfing.
Maintaining that he will keep his current strategies close to his chest, the live wire natural foot has placed strongly in every event this year and sits over 2000 points clear of second placed Julian Wilson (Coolum). ‘I’m into the round of 12 and that is another good result for me,” said Kennedy. “I’ve had a good run and I want to keep what I’m doing to myself. “I just try and talk to everyone, be friendly and take my mind off the actual competition.”
“Julian is the only top guy who didn’t come, so this is a really hard event and I’m out to just secure another good finish,” he said. “I had heard the waves get really good around here, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like we will be getting much swell so we could be rock hopping again tomorrow for the final day.”
Tahitian dynamo Tamaroa McComb scored the highest wave score of the day with a near perfect 9.50 out of 20.00 for a manic attack on a larger set wave. The 16-year-old is in devastating form and fresh from winning a wildcard into the first world tour event on the Gold Coast where he was eliminated by three time world champion Andy Irons (Haw). He has also progressed into the round of 12 surfers.
The opening round of the Junior Girl’s division started late in the afternoon with top seeds Laura Enever (Narrabeen), Kirby Wright (Culburra) and Kiwi super girls Paige Hareb and Airini Mason all in contention.
Both divisions of the Billabong Pro Junior Series event are expected to finalize tomorrow (Friday 7th March).