The Junior Tour continues to offer a glimpse of the talent North America has to offer and this year's battle for No. 1 was no exception. Breakout years for Ryland Rubens and Alyssa Spencer earned them the North America Regional Junior Titles In Dedication to Zander Venezia as both prepare for their World Junior Championships campaign.
Background Information: The regional Junior Tours offer competitors 18-and-under a chance to vie a spot into the World Junior Championships. The men's Top 4 from each region (Australasia/Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe, Hawaii/ Tahiti Nui, North America, and South America) are guaranteed a spot into the event as the Top 2 women also earn their place at Kiama, Australia, in January.
Rubens took that No. 1 spot straight out of the gates with a win at the Ron Jon Vans Junior Pro and did not relinquish it for the entire year. The Ocean Beach, California, native followed up his win with a runner-up in Los Cabos and looked well on his way to a dominant year. But, following a Quarterfinal appearance in Huntington Beach, Rubens began to falter with an equal 13th and equal 9th in consecutive events that left the door open. The 18-year-old caught a break in Barbados and his fellow contenders did not earn the result needed -- claiming his first-ever regional title.
"It feels nice to look back at this year and, even though there were some ups and downs, know I held the lead the entire year to earn this title," Rubens said. "I think I got complacent towards the end after having that lead for so long and that's what nearly got me. I learned it's a marathon, not a sprint, and to also not get to high on the highs, as well as too low on the lows. It's good to learn these things now because I feel it will serve me well in the future as I take on the QS."
This also marks Rubens' first appearance at the World Junior Championships of his Pro Junior career as he ages out of the Junior Tour next year. The newly crowned Regional Champion is set for a winter away from the jersey before competing in Australia to kick off his full-time QS career.
"It's meaningful to finish out my junior career with this title because it's really hard to put a full year together and to know that I can do that is nice to have in my head moving forward," Rubens added. "It's great to start the year at Worlds because Australia is such a beautiful country and I love the vibe it has so I'm looking forward to getting over there. When I went there for the first time last year it was such a learning experience and I was blown away."
Fellow San Diego County surfer Spencer was on track to earn the North America Women's Junior Regional Title last year, but fell just short in the final event. However, the 14-year-old came out of the gates firing once again and defended her Ron Jon Vans Pro Junior win to start the season. Spencer also followed up her win with a runner-up in Los Cabos before her mid-year slump at the Vans US Open -- though the damage was done. Spencer headed into the final event of 2017 with nearly a 600-point lead and capped it off with a runner-up finish.
"It's really cool to finally get it this year after I watched Leilani make it to the Final last year and win the title along with the contest," Spener said. "I was so happy for her, but I really wanted to get it so this is special to earn it this year. I've wanted to check this off my list for awhile now and I'm so happy. This year I felt like I was in a really good rhythm in each contest. It was great to make a couple Finals and make a run at Worlds once again -- that's always the goal at the end of the year."
Spencer's return to the World Junior Championships will be one to watch as she made noticeable improvements from her WSL debut year in 2016 to now claiming the top honor. The up-and-coming talent has her priorities in place heading back to Kiama with plenty of momentum.
"I'm just going to be preparing for that event now and pushing my surfing the best I can," Spencer added. "The other girls are just continuing to get better and we're all pushing each other harder every time we're in the water. It's really exciting to see that and to have that experience last year against them, as well as surfing against them on the QS this year, I know to expect their best."
The 2018 North America Junior Tour season begins at the Quiksilver Ron Jon Pro Junior March 8 through 11 in Cocoa Beach, Florida.