The RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboards crowned John Mel its 2017 victor, marking his first-ever WSL win. Newport Beach, California's 56th Street Jetty provided one-to-three foot, clean conditions that offered solid scoring potential amid the inconsistent swell.
Mel came out firing on all cylinders in a stacked Final that included North America Pro Junior Tour rankings' current No. 4 Tyler Gunter, No. 5 Tommy Coleman, and No. 6 Luke Gordon to earn a huge win that now moves him to the No. 2 position.
Mel's opening wave came within just minutes of the starting horn and took full advantage on his pristine opportunity with powerful forehand turns in the pocket -- earning a near-perfect 9.17 (out of a possible 10). The Santa Cruz, California, native stayed busy with more forehand attacks to earn a 6.00 and 6.70 to put everyone in a combination situation, meaning each surfer needed two new scores to top Mel. But, the 17-year-old shut the door on his competitors with a soaring air-reverse that earned him an excellent 8.03 and propel him to his first-ever Pro Junior win.
"I'm psyched to finally get one of these out of the way and take a win," Mel said. "It was so good to catch a wave right off the bat and then back it up right away. Then to find that air section midway through the heat was great, but I was still a little nervous because anything can happen with those guys in the water. It gives me a lot of confidence and this whole year I've been stressing out when I feel like I deserve to be here [in a spot for Worlds]."
Mel and Gunter had to deal with in-form surfers Parker Cohn and Hagan Johnson, but it was Mel who came out with a Semifinal win before claiming the ultimate prize. The win moves Mel into the No. 2 spot heading into Barbados and a chance to contest for his first-ever World Junior Championships (WJC) appearance.
"Confidence is a huge thing in surfing and if I can bring that to Barbados that would be a great one," Mel added. "I've had a couple of losses since my first Final in Florida earlier this year and it definitely helps to regain this momentum. It's a great place to be heading into Barbados and try to make it to Worlds. It'd be epic to do that and I'll just stick to the game plan."
The battle for second was hard fought by South Carolina's Gordon, who earned a vital runner-up finish and now sits within the Top 4 for WJC qualification. Gordon's impressive Semifinal performance earned him a big win over Coleman, and event standouts David Economos and 14-year-old Hagan Johnson. But, his 7.00 wasn't enough to get him out of the combination situation, needing a 7.20, and walked away with a valuable 750 points.
"I'm so excited for Barbados now after this result and jumping into fourth so now I just have to hold it down," Gordon said. "I was just surfing out there at this event and putting all the stress behind, it was make or break for this contest so I knew what I had to. It'll mainly come down to Tyler [Gunter], I think, so it's just going to be a free-for-all down there with all the guys."
While Coleman dropped back one spot to No. 6 on the North America Pro Junior rankings, the Floridian still has a fighting chance at earning a Top 4 spot sitting on 1,930 points. This marks Coleman's second Pro Junior Final of 2017 as he put a full season together, but will not head to the Live Like Zander Pro Junior In Memory of Zander Venezia and prepare for the year to come.
"That was such a great Final and some of the most fun I've had in one," Coleman said. "It's been a great year and I wasn't planning on doing all the events so I won't be at the Barbados event to compete. I want to learn the waves down there and take a trip there to surf around for the experience. Next year I'm going to do all the events and really give it a go without a doubt so I'm really excited for that."
Rounding out an incredible Finals list, Newport Beach's own Gunter found himself in back-to-back Finals at his home break with a chance to earn a repeat victory. But, it wasn't to be for the 17-year-old talent who now sits at No. 5, just outside the cutoff point, and will have to keep pace with Gordon in Barbados if he's to earn a spot into WJC action next year.
"I really wanted to win, but if anyone was going to win I'm so glad it was John [Mel]," Gunter said. "I'm stoked to make my third Final this year and really pumped to head for Barbados and solidify that fourth spot. Luke [Gordon] and I will just have to go toe-to-toe for it, it looks like, but either way I'll be stoked because he's another great friend of mine. Hopefully I can have a better year there after some bad luck breaking my board and buckling my backup, but I'll be gunning for that Top 4 spot."
The next event on the North America Pro Junior Tour will be the Live Like Zander Pro Junior In Memory of Zander Venezia men's and women's event at Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, Barbados, November 9 through 12.