The Junior Tour often is recognized with tough conditions and grinding through heats in hopes of posting two numbers worthy of advancing to the next round. This was not the case on the shores of Newport Beach for the RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboards. Pumping four-to-six foot conditions came pouring into the infamous 56th Street Jetty offering peeling, lefthand pointbreak-esque walls for the next generation of surfers to contest Rounds 1, 2, and the Quarterfinals. The young guns rose to the occasion and posted excellent numbers (meaning an 8.00 or higher) throughout the day with the title plot thickening each passing heat.
Hometown hero Tyler Gunter didn't let any waves at his local break go to waste, posting two big heat wins en route to a Semifinal appearance. Gunter posted a 9.17 (out of a possible 10) in his opening Round 2 heat with the most critical floater of the day resembling something out of fellow goofy-footer, and Championship Tour (CT) competitor, Italo Ferreira's book. The Newport native followed that performance with a 17.70 (out of a possible 20) in a tight Quarterfinal bout against fellow Californians Cole Houshmand and Taro Watanabe who each had excellent scores of their own, as well as seeded threat standout Sean Woods.
"I love surfing out here, especially when it's high tide like in my Quarterfinal heat, it just makes it so rippable," Gunter said. "In my first heat I just thought I was going to do a little projection floater and then when I came off I looked down and just thought holy crap, this is pretty high up. When I pulled it I just felt so pumped and really confident, and now after that last heat I'm feeling really good so I'm ready for finals day."
"It's a tough competition with a lot of high scores going down and was so pumped to win that Quarter," Gunter continued. "Just having a 17.70 total and Cole [Houshmand] had a 17.00, also Taro [Watanabe] posted a big number so that was an exciting heat. Those heats make it really fun when it's you and your friends just trading off, posting big scores. This is one of my favorite events, especially the Newport Surfing Championships, I just have so many good memories from here and that gives me confidence in this event."
South Carolina's Luke Gordon battled another local contender Parker Cohn, current North America Junior Tour rankings No. 1 Nolan Rapoza, and Floridian threat Chauncey Robinson to win the opening Quarterfinal heat. Gordon found freedom in the lineup not knowing the heat situation, but was cautious of his opponent's potential for taking on the sizeable conditions.
"It was tricky feeling like I wasn't doing well in the heats just because you'd watch someone take off and think they just got a gem," Gordon said. "But you don't really know until the heats over. My first heat I was stressing a bit but my second one I wasn't since I couldn't tell what I needed to. Every wave I just wanted to surf and do what I knew I could do. It would've sucked if I'd approached it like that and hadn't made it but making it through just makes it that much nicer."
"The most important thing out there was just top to bottom, as many as you could get," Gordon continued. "I haven't quite gotten one of those gems yet, I've taken off on the mid-size ones that wall up and give you more face to keep throwing into. When you hear those big scores getting dropped a lot then you know everyone's getting those bigger gems so it's a little sketchy, but I know I'll find at least one of those."
Rapoza proved why he's leading the charge in this year's race -- posting the day's highest single-wave score of 9.43 and heat total, 18.10. But, a nail-biting Quarterfinal nearly saw the Long Beach, Calif., native take an early exit as he and Cohn both finished with 8.80 heat totals. However, Rapoza had the higher single-wave score of 5.83 to advance on and back into a fourth-straight Semifinal.
"That first heat felt good, I was pretty stressed in the beginning of that heat and those last two waves I felt like I really got my competition started," Rapoza said. "But, that last heat brought me back down so who knows how the next heat will go. I won't be happy with a Semifinal though. My main goal is to go back-to-back right now."
With the opportunity to make some headway toward solidifying his place among the Top 4, Jake Marshall is back in his second Semifinals this year -- but knows it's not enough. Current No. 2 Kei Kobayashi fell in Round 2 and Griffin Colapinto is pursuing the Qualifying Series (QS) in Europe, which leaves the door wide open for Marshall to gain serious ground. Marshall posted an 8.60 in his Round 2 win and continued his formidable backhand attack in the Quarterfinals to nearly match his best single-wave score with an 8.50.
"It's really nice to get some waves for a competition, it's just been firing all day so it's fun to go out there and surf an event with this swell on offer," Marshall said. "A lot of people in the Top 10 have been making some heats so it's really just going to come down to the final day. Semis are cool but it kind of defeats the purpose if they end up doing really well. It's nice not to be the backup show with the bad tide or worst day of the waiting period. For RVCA to make this event happen for us is incredible -- especially here in California since we only have one other competition that's just down the road."
Action continued into the final Quarterfinal heat of the day with Ryland Rubens earning his place back into yet another Semifinal appearance. Rubens faced an in-form Nick Marshall and Griffin Foy, each posting excellent and near-excellent scores in Round 2, alongside an always dangerous Micky Clarke -- though saved his best performance of the day for last with an impressive 15.17 total. Rubens also found his own excellent score of an 8.00 in Round 2 to build his confidence and unleash when it mattered even more.
"I just went right into it since the ocean is always changing," Rubens said. "It's always good to surf early heats, but I think it sorts itself out in the end with how you surf that particular heat. I've had two Semifinal losses so I definitely want to break that and just put on a show. It feels really good on my forehand but a lot of the regular footed guys have been teeing off on it too so I think it just comes down to whoever is on the best waves. I'm just keeping my head down and going into each heat as it is and doing my best. I feel like that strategy has gotten me some good results and just want to keep on pace with it."
The 2016 RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboards Champion will be crowned Sunday.