Sebastian “Seabass” Zietz. Photo courtesy ASP/Covered Images.
I trust everyone rang in the New Year in fine style, there was certainly a celebration of amazing junior surfing at North Narrabeen for the Billabong ASP World Junior Championship, as the final championships of 2008 spilled over into the first week of January.
This event criss-crossed the Pacific for several years in search of a home, and it has definitely been domiciled in the heartland of Australian surfing. North Narrabeen, apart from being one of the most reliable summer breaks on the Eastern Seaboard, is home to an iconic boardriding club and has produced such legendary figures as Terry Fitzgerald, Col Smith, Simon Anderson, Damien Hardman, Mark Warren, Grant Oliver, Mark & Brett Bannister, Nathan Hedge and a host of world class surfers.
This year's edition of the Billabong ASP World Junior Champs kept up the fine tradition of unearthing major talent. It is an event where the seedings and favorites go out the door, where basically anything can and will happen. Reflecting the ever-increasing depth in pro ranks, the depth of talent in this prestigous Under-20 division is mind blowing. This translates to solid strength of field in both Junior Men's and Women's disciplines, and just as it mimicks the ASP Dream Tour, there is absolutely no easy passage through the opening salvos.
By the time we had wound down to the last 16 Men's and Q/Finals of the Junior Women's, there was a nice blend of high profiles and complete unknowns, and there were plenty of pre-event favorites missing. This event, more than any, seems to be very unkind to favorites. Over the years, heaps of kids have gone in with plenty of media hype, yet the weight of expectation, coupled with the gaze of media attention, seems to get the better of them. In this sense, any remnance of homefield advantage is just about reversed, what bubbles to the surface is a lack of experience in handling the hype and favorites quite often paddle out a little distracted, facing an opponent that has nothing more to think about but ripping hard.
Contest Director Luke Egan was running yet another flawless program, assisted nicely by favorable conditions and a handy 3-4' swell. The Narrabeen locals were at their hospitable best, allowing Louie to maximize the available surf by running long days. On Tuesday, January 6, he decided to conclude the girls, opening with the Quarters after an already long day of Junior Men's action. This meant a 6pm finish, but with an exciting field remaining in the draw, the media hung around, the webcast captured the action, and we had a splendid showcase, a real snap shot into the future.
The winners were Pauline Ado, Courtney Conlogue, Leila Hurst and Bethany Hamilton, bowing out were Arini Mason, Paige Hareb, Diana Cristina and local lass Laura Enever. But there were no losers, all the girls gave a positive acquittal of their abilities, impressing with a solid aray of stinging manuevers and linking rides in a collective offering that displayed a maturity way beyond their years. Remember these names, they are on the way.
The Final between Pauline Ado and Bethany Hamilton was a miracle on many levels. Neither girl was in the original field of regional qualifiers. Pauline snuck in as a replacement for Lee Ann Curren, who withdrew, and Bethany was the recipient of one of two ASP International wildcards. This development reflects the nature of the event. Only weeks before, neither girl was preparing for Narrabeen, at 6pm on January 6, one of them would be crowned an ASP World Champion. It was a gutsy performance by both, Bethany was applying her rad approach to the wave face but not quite finishing off her rides, Pauline was taking a more conservative approach but dotting her I's & Q's in an all-round performance, finally prevailing 13.43-12.47.
Next morning, Big Luke went for the jugular, announcing that a Junior Men's ASP World Champion would be crowned by 3pm. It was on from the word go, two rising stars in Tamaroa McComb and Julian Wilson found themselves pitted against each other to begin proceedings. Both these kids rip hard, but in a quirky heat, Julian could not buy a wave and the young Tahitian scored all his 13.17 points without priority. Tanner Gudauskas, the youngest of the San Clemente surf clan, continued his cracking form with a resounding win over unknown Brazilian Alejo Muniz, while Hawaii's Kiron Jabour nailed a tight one over previous round high flyer Lincoln Taylor.
Rounding out the top half was tournament No. 1 seed Jadson Andre emerging triumphant from a high-scoring affair against Hawaiian hot rat Granger Larson. Maxime Huscenot of Reunion Island may have only just turned 16, but he also turned heads with a mature display against Alex Ribeiro, then France's homegrown Marc Lacomare rubbed salt in the Aussie wound by knocking out Jayke Sharp. Matt Wilkinson gave the home side something to cheer about with a top scoring 17.83 against US prodigy Nat Young, who recently won an ASP WQS 4-Star event, and in the final heat of Round 4, Hawaii's Kai Barger came from behind at the death to oust Aussie star Stuart Kennedy.
Into the Quarters we sailed, with Tanner Gudauskas, Jadson Andre, Marc Lacomare and Kai Barger doing enough to secure Top 4 status and set up exciting Semifinals. At this point, the stakes are raised, the two finalists are guaranteed preferred seeding in the major ASP WQS events in '09, so there was plenty of motivation to surf it up. Tanner Gudauskas was again solid as a rock, but this time had no answer to Jadson Andre, who let his intentions be known with a perfect 10 point ride mid heat. Kai Barger looked pretty unstoppable too. You just know when someone is on, they just have this confident cloak of invincibility about them, and all day long Kai Barger had the swagger.
No. 1 seed Jadson Andre was certainly living up to it, opening the Final with a scintillating ride that netted him a solid keeper in 8.17. Then he kept on catching waves under the watchfull eye of Barger, who had priority but had elected to forgo these waves. Kai had been managing his heats like a pro, being patient when it counted, hitting the go button when he needed to. This strategy paid huge dividends in the final. He trailed for most of the first half, then in a 5 minute phase mid-Final the native Hawaiian goofy -ooter racked up a combined 15.34, underlined by a classy 8.67, to raise the bar.
It was to be a winning effort, Kai Barger joining Kekoa Bacalso as young Hawaiians who have clinched an ASP World Title. As we know, Kekoa has now qualified for the '09 ASP Dream Tour and young Kai and Jadson now have their chance to make inroads on the ASP WQS courtesy of the ASP seeding incentive. The Billabong ASP World Juniors was an awesome result, and even though the Aussies got some satisfaction with a runner-up to Hawaii in the team standings, the Brazilian and Hawaiian boys continue to dominate the major placings.
Pauline Ado will be the first French surfer to be crowned ASP World Champion, and Kai Barger will also be officially crowned alongside Kelly Slater and Stephanie Gilmore at the ASP Banquet in late February.
So here we go, another great year of surfing ahead.
All the best to ya.
Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew
ASP Intl President