Hot on the heels of crowning two World Longboard Champions - Soleil Errico and Steven Sawyer - over seven days of superb waves and supreme performances, the Taiwan Open Of Surfing will draw to a close this week with the planet's best juniors turning the competition from an ode to the past to a preview of the sport's future with the World Junior Championships kicking off on the Monday, December 3rd. Jinzun Harbour is a swell magnet of the highest order, the cobblestone beach serving up running rights and sucky left walls that will allow competitors every opportunity to showcase their high performance abilities over the coming days.
The World Juniors have long been a bellwether for Championship Tour success with an honour roll featuring everyone from icons like Andy Irons and Joel Parkinson to world champs Gabriel Medina and Adriano de Souza and tour stalwarts like Sally Fitzgibbons, Jordy Smith, Nikki Van Dijk and Caio Ibelli. Last year's event in Kiama, Australia, saw Hawaiian excitement machine Finn McGill claim the men's title, while future star Vahine Fierro took out the women's division with a stunning performance from the previously little-heralded Tahitian.
This year's event sees a number of highly touted surfers descending on Taitung County to try and claim junior surfing's biggest prize. New Zealander Kehu Butler is the reigning champion on the Australia / Oceania Pro Junior Series, widely regarded as the toughest domestic circuit in the world, while Asian junior champion Rio Waida is coming in hot with a solid Qualifying Series resume' to his name and a Semifinal finish under his belt here at last year's event, when the Taiwan Open Of Surfing featured a men's QS1,500 event. Rio, along with Ketut Agus are the Indonesian's of the Asian team, while the incredibly deep Japanese junior talent pool filling the rest of the ranks, as surfers like Yuji Nishi and Joe Azuchi looking to lock in Japan's first ever serious result at this level. At just 16 Eli Hanneman is the youngest competitor in the men's field but the prodigious talent from Maui already has one WJC appearance to his name, and would love to back up the hype his sizzling video parts have generated over the past year with a loud result in Taiwan.
Brazilian Samuel Pupo is the younger brother of Championship Tour competitor Miguel and has already surfed at the highest level himself, as a wildcard at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach in 2017. Similarly, Crosby Colapinto is the younger brother of Championship Tour rookie Griffin, while European top seed and junior champion Marco Mignot is the younger brother of Nomme, who competed at the WJC in Ericeira, Portugal in 2016.
On the women's side of the draw Kirra Pinkerton is the reigning North American champion, while Peruvian standout Sol Aguirre holds that honour in the South American region. Interestingly this year the Hawaii/Tahiti region is represented entirely by Hawaiians, with Gabriela Bryan and Keala Tomoda-Bannert making up the women's team. Zahli Kelly and Alyssa Lock form a strong Aussie contingent, while the European squad is made up of Nadia Erostarbe from the Basque Country and Anat Leilor from Israel, highlighting the incredible diversity found in the modern surfing world.
Things get really interesting where the WSL wildcards are concerned. Brazilian Mateus Herdy - fresh from a runner-up finish at the Hawaiian Pro - is currently sitting 12th on the QS and is a red-hot favourite leading into this event. Kauli Vast might be the only Tahitian in the field but that makes him no less deadly, the young charger equally as comfortable above the lip as he is under Teahupo'o's thickest efforts. Adding Indonesia standout I Ketut "Agus" Aditya to the field is an awesome call by the WSL, and came on the back of his emphatic win over a strong field at the QS1000 Nias Pro in August. Alyssa Spencer might only be 15 but this is her second appearance at the World Junior Championships, and the Californian talent is definitely a name her fellow competitors won't want to see in their heats.
The swell forecast looks rock solid for the coming week and though winds may be a little funky for the lay-surfer, the abundance of aerialists in the field are licking their lips at the thought of the prevailing side-shore trade wind blowing perfectly into the right hand ramps of Jinzun Harbour. Things are heating up in Taiwan and you won't want to miss a minute once competition gets under way so stay tuned to the WSL app and website to catch all of the action.