The Ron Jon Vans Pro Junior kicked off the 2017 North America Junior Tour season with the region's best 18-and-under surfers leading the charge. The men completed their opening Round One of action as the women completed both Round One and Quarterfinal draws, setting up their Semifinal bouts for the weekend. Conditions proved challenging as 1- to- 2-foot waves (with an occasional plus set here and there) pushed through at Alan Shepard Park. Most Junior competitors were still able to produce quality surfing throughout the day, however.
Bo Raynor used his East Coast knowledge to score an 8.33, the only excellent ride of the day, in the early goings. The North Carolinian has only recently entered onto the WSL competitive stage, but looks to put a full season together for the first time in his young career.
"This year I'm going to try and compete in more QS events and build my seed for a chance at the QS3,000s," Raynor said. "But, I'm definitely trying to work on the Junior Tour and qualify for Worlds. I've never really done it before so I'm going to give it my all this year and try to make the Top 4. I'm hoping to bring my freesurfing mentality into it, but I always get a little more serious toward events and now I'm putting my focus into this to get some results."
South Floridian Chase Modelski is also an emerging talent and proved it in his opening Pro Junior performance with a great fisrt heat win. Surfing has taken Modelski to Costa Rica and California for NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) events and he is starting to find his competitive side. The 16-year-old competed in just one event last year at the Vans Pro in Virginia Beach, but now looks to gain experience throughout the year.
"I knew it would be a tough event with the waves so I brought the right equipment and sat away from everyone else to wait for a good set," Modelski said. "That was the only way you were getting a decent score so I took advantage of it. This year I'm looking to get more into the events and next year will be when I really start going for it. I'd love to make a few heats and maybe even the Final, hopefully keep up my surfing and finish strong no matter what."
Action then shifted to Round One of the Ron Jon Vans Pro Junior Women's event. Many of the favorites, as well as some up-and-comers, found a few diamonds in the rough despite the wave-starved conditions.
Leilani McGonagle came out with the intention of defending her 2016 North America Regional Title and she did just that -- earning a big heat win in the small conditions. Finding a wave just as the horn sounded to start her opening Quarterfinal heat, McGonagle earned a 6.33, then used patience in finding her backup wave. The Costa Rican finished runner-up at this event last year and wants to up the ante with a win this time around.
"I was looking for a quick start, then just waited for a set and that got me an average score which is what saved me," McGonagle said. "This wave is always tricky and changing with the different tides or winds, you just have to be pumped and ready to go on anything. It's important for me to start off well and not be scratching toward the end of the season, even though it still came down to the final event last year. So I'm looking to perform even better and be a little more comfortable at the end."
Kirra Pinkerton came out firing on all cylinders with a 6.50 and a 5.93 backup to solidify a Quarterfinal win and find her way back to the Ron Jon Vans Pro Junior Semifinals. Pinkerton hails from San Clemente, CA, a hot-bed for up-and coming surfers. The 14-year-old already knows what it takes to make it as a professional surfer and has her heart set on making a prolific career of it.
"Based on what I got this year, I'd love to come away with a win here or at least make the Finals," Pinkerton said. "This would be a super important result to really help toward Worlds and ultimately next year -- which would really help out my career. It feels good to already have some experience at this age because I know as you get older it only gets harder and there's a lot of young surfers coming up, so it's an exciting time."
Fourteen year old Samantha Sibley, also from San Clemente, is another from a long list of up-and-comers. And she's got big ambitions of her own. Last year was Sibley's first complete year chasing the Junior Tour and she finished brilliantly -- earning her first Finals appearance at the Soup Bowl Pro Junior in Barbados. But this year, Sibley aspires to reach new goals and push her surfing even further.
"It gives me some confidence to start the year off with a Semifinal right away and now all my focus is to try and make the Final," Sibley said. "All of these girls are so good and they've helped make me that much better competing against them. Last year was my first year figuring it all out and dipping my feet in, but this year I'd really like to make a go for it -- Worlds are definitely on my mind this season."
Event organizers will meet tomorrow morning at 11:30 a.m. EST to determine a 12:00 p.m. EST start for either the Men's QS1,000 or Pro Junior Men's event -- the Pro Junior Women's event will be off for the day.