Opening day of the RVCA Pro Junior pres. by Jack's Surfboards got underway and determined its Semifinalists in a marathon day of competition. The 56th Street Jetty of Newport Beach provided two-to-three foot, fun conditions in the early goings and brilliant performances from fresh talent followed before the afternoon winds and deteriorating swell plagued the lineup.
Only one notable upset was in the books as current No. 1 Ryland Rubens was eliminated in the Quarterfinals and the race toward the Top 4 remains extremely tight with all the contenders still intact as a vital finals day is now in place for Sunday.
Tommy McKeown put on an excellent display of surfing in his debut Round 2 heat with an 8.50 (out of a possible 10) and 15.50 (out of a possible 20) heat total, the highest of Round 2. This marks the Oxnard, California, native's best result of an otherwise sleepy 2017 and looks to capitalize even further. The 16-year-old blazed through all three of his heats with victories, including a Quarterfinal win over defending event winner Tyler Gunter, who advanced in the runner-up position, and heads into the first finals day appearance of his career.
"Right before my heat I would always look to see where to start, which ended up being toward the jetty, and then move over once I didn't have priority," McKeown said. "It feels good to make it through and I was stoked after that first heat, and now to make it to my first Pro Junior Semifinal is pretty great. I feel like my flow out there is going well so far and I'm hoping it lasts. I live at the [Silver] Strand [Beach] so I surf there a lot and it's a lot like this which helps. I'll just stick with the same strategy I had today and see if those lefts keep coming."
Newport Beach local competitor Parker Cohn is into his first career Pro Junior Semifinal as well after a critical Quarterfinal win over current No. 3 John Mel, who also advances into the Semifinals. Cohn's hopes of making a late charge toward World Junior Championships (WJC) begins here, as he currently sits at the No. 26 spot, and needs two massive results to close out the year. But, the 17-year-old's momentum from today's performance may be the push Cohn needs to start his Cinderella story.
"It's cool to make it this far and stoked to be through to finals day here at home," Cohn said. "It's so nice to hop back home and relax in between heats. Not only is it in my backyard, but to have all the guys from RVCA who support me here makes it even more insane. They do a really good job and put as much as they can into this one to help out at the grassroots level. This is my last year at the junior level so to win a Pro Junior at home would be the best thing ever and I'll give it my best."
The day's best performance came from Tommy Coleman, who posted a near-perfect 9.23 and 17.90 heat total in Round 3, but it was Luke Gordon who topped the Floridian in a tight Quarterfinal bout. Gordon and Coleman turned in the upset of the event so far after eliminating current North America Junior Tour No. 1 Rubens -- who still earns 280 vital points toward solidifying a spot among the Top 4. Gordon has yet to find himself atop a Pro Junior podium in his two Finals appearances and a win here in Newport would help catapult him into the WJC qualifying picture.
"It would be so satisfying to take one of these out after doing this for so many years," Gordon said. "These past two years I've been making heats, but not as far as I've wanted to and it feels great to make a Semifinal again since the first contest. It's a bit stressful, but you just have to find the happy medium between having fun and enjoying it, and also taking it as a competition. It's hard, but once you find that rhythm, it's almost like nothing can go wrong. I was just looking for that one wave out there to do one legitimate turn and finish it off since that's what was making heats out there in the end."
San Clemente's David Economos finds himself in the same position as Gordon and needs a big result to help fulfill his dream of WJC qualification. Economos now matches his best result of 2017 after a Semifinal at the Los Cabos Open of Surf to kickstart that campaign. The 17-year-old has a lot of moving room as No. 11 Eithan Osborne and No. 10 Elijah Fox were eliminated in today's proceedings -- and No. 9 through No. 7 are absent from Newport.
"I've been out here the past few days getting ready so I'm stoked to see it pay off and make it through to finals day," Economos said. "This morning was really fun and you could find a couple of good waves, but that last one was tough. I surf T-Street a lot when it's small to get ready for events like this and since it's my last year I'm really making a push to get into Worlds. A lot of kids were gone so I knew this was my opportunity to do well and want to take advantage. The main goal is to get a result here to set myself up with a chance at cracking the Top 4 in Barbados so I'm hoping to make that happen."
Event organizers will reconvene Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. PDT to determine a 9:00 a.m. start for the Semifinal match-ups.
The RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboards runs from September 22 through 24 at the 56th Street Jetty in Newport Beach.