Maui's Noah Hill and Summer Macedo conquered the international field of competitors at the Papara Pro Surf Tahiti Junior Pro today by taking on Tahitian standouts Eliott Napias and Vahine Fierro. It was Hawaii versus Tahiti in the final day of competition at this World Surf League (WSL) Junior Qualifying Series (JQS) 1,000 event, which demonstrated a true matchup of equal talent.
Both Hill and Macedo showcased unique flair to rise to the podium, and likened the beach break of Papara to their hometown wave of Ironwoods. The two were able to power through the tricky lineup to find punchy sections and secure solid scores for the win.
Hill, originally from Venice Beach, Calif., but now residing on Maui's West Side, went up against Punaauia's Napias in the final heat of the day. Hill's two best waves, an 8.25 and 7.00 put him ahead of Napias by less than a point.
"I tried not to think a lot in my heat," said Hill, 14. "Eliott was very hard to beat, he's a very good surfer, good backside. But it gives me a lot of confidence knowing I can get scores in these contests because the highest score I got before this was like a four."
The teen has only competed in one other Junior Pro event and lost out in the first round. Today's win marks the first big accomplishment of Hill's career, and he is eager to make another final in an upcoming event.
The Maui resident demonstrated serious aerial talent after reaping a 6.50 and a 5.00 for two frontside maneuvers in the Quarterfinals. With two mid-range scores in the bag, Hill had the lead over Mauiki Raioha (PYF), the Tahitian who made recent acclaim after scoring two 10's at the Rangiroa Open Pro. Hill wowed the beach crowd with his progressive surfing, and was equally rewarded by the judges.
For Macedo, this is the first time she has competed this year due to a foot injury that took her out of the running for the Sunset Pro Junior in January. Today's victory gives the Lahaina local a good chance to qualify for the WSL World Junior Championships, an opportunity many of the girls were fighting for here in Tahiti.
"Qualifying for Worlds would be awesome knowing that I missed the first event, but I'm just going to try and do my best in the upcoming event and see what happens," said Macedo.
The junior women are competing for two coveted slots into the World Junior Championships in January 2017, and the Vahine Pro Junior is one of three events that counts toward their ranking. Brisa Hennessy (HAW) had the advantage after winning the Sunset Pro Junior in January, and now Macedo is also looking strong to qualify after today's win.
In one of the closest heats of the competition, Macedo took down former WSL World Junior Champion and two-time ISA Gold Medalist Mahina Maeda (HAW) in the first Quarterfinal of the day, by just .15 points. The two kept things exciting by going wave for wave, both girls raising the bar after every ride. Macedo was able to pull ahead on her last wave, a 6.90 for a total combined score of 13.65 while Maeda couldn't find a solid wave to backup her 7.50.
Runner-up Fierro, 16, was the only Tahitian left in the girls' competition, and put up a fair fight in the Final against Macedo.
"Vahine, she rips," said Summer. "She's been winning all her heats. She's such a strong person and I respect her so much, it was very hard to win against her."
Credit is due to behind-the-scenes standout Kahea Hart, who coaches the junior girls and traveled with them to Tahiti to mentor them to solid finishes. Hart has been committed to raising the level of women's surfing. He encourages a younger generation of girls like Luana Coelho Silva (HAW), 11, and Leila Riccobuano (HAW), 12 -- both who made the Semifinals -- to compete at high level junior event. Hart has also helped coach Mahina Maeda, Dax McGill and Brisa Hennessy to their most impressive accomplishments to date.
Tomorrow contest organizers hope to finish the Papara Pro Open, a Men's WSL QS1,000 event. With 16 surfers still in contention, the heat will turn on in Tahiti's playful beach break. The juniors will be awarded along with the Papara Pro winner once the competition finishes.