The World Surf League (WSL) Ron Jon Vans Junior Pro finished its competition with the remaining two-to-three foot, southeast windswell that was on hand at Shepard Park as a massive day unfolded. Competing in her first Pro Junior event, Alyssa Spencer (USA) unleashed an amazing performance throughout the event, posting the highest single-wave score of 9.50 and heat total, 17.67 on the opening day of action - continuing her brilliant form into a maiden WSL Pro Junior victory.
Spencer, the now 13-year-old Carlsbad, Calif., native celebrated her birthday today and is off to a brilliant "golden year" - turning 13 on the 13th of March. She showed maturity beyond her years with smart, strong surfing that proved too much for her fellow competitors as she overcame Leilani McGonagle (CRI), Malia Osterkamp (USA), and Maddie Peterson (USA) in the Final.
"It feels really great - it's my first Junior ever and to win it just makes it that much more amazing," Spencer said. "I just had to tell myself that there were good waves out there and there's always a 10 so I just kept that in the back of my mind the whole time. Something that was in the back of my head was just how bad I wanted to win the whole event so I just made the best out of every heat. A big goal of mine this year is to make it to the World Championships so this is a huge step toward that."
Earning the runner-up spot, Costa Rican Leilani McGonagle (CRI) jumped out to an early lead but couldn't hold her pole position when the final horn sounded. Posting the highest single-wave score of the Final with a 6.50, she couldn't find the backup needed to overtake the 12-year-old phenom. McGonagle is looking forward to a busy year and is off to a good start with a Finals appearance here in Cocoa Beach.
"It was super challenging with the conditions but I was stoked to make it to the Final," McGonagle said. "I was just trying to stay positive out there knowing anything can happen. I was really just looking for a wave to open up on and get some good maneuvers in on these smaller waves so I was excited to do that."
"I got in on the 10th and since we didn't start running until the 12th it was a great opportunity to get some training in," McGonagle added. "I actually had a sprained ankle so I was stoked to get back in the water a few days prior to showing up here. There's a few events I'll compete in back home now and also try to get as many Junior Pro events under my belt along with some QS events."
"It was a real grind but it wasn't too hard at all once you got your board speed up and it was all about the quality of your turns using that speed," Osterkamp said. "I just tried to use my paddle strength and get going quick. I was trying not to think about the other competitors and usually when that happens is when I do my best - I'm stoked to get third so now I'll just focus on improving throughout the year."
Rounding off a great Final, Maddie Peterson (USA) was battling an illness along with some talented surfers and finished strong with a fourth-place position. Using this as a jump-start to her Junior Tour campaign, the 17-year-old has a promising year ahead of her.
"There were some fun waves but I did get a stomach bug so that wasn't too fun for me," Peterson said. "Everybody was surfing so well and it was nice to start my run in the Quarters, it's just one less round to worry about. You always want to do your best when you're given these opportunities. This built my confidence a lot after just making the Semis last year so I'm excited to get off to a good start. I'm not doing as many QS events this year so I can really focus on the Junior Tour since it's my last year and I'm excited to see what happens."