Newly crowned World Surf League (WSL) Africa junior champions Jake Elkington and Sophie Bell will be the top seeds in the regional squad invited to compete in the prestigious World Junior Championship (WJC) in Australia in January 2018.
The 2017 WSL Junior Qualifying Series (JQS) season was the busiest in the African region's history and saw a record number of junior surfers competed in an unprecedented nine men's and eight women's contests which were staged at many of South Africa's most iconic surf breaks.
The WSL JQS is the first stepping-stone in the development of the next crop of elite professional competitors, giving surfers 18-and-under a platform to hone their skills, sample international competition and become comfortable travelling to surf events while making friends from all corners of the globe.
The top four ranked men and top two ranked women from each of the seven WSL regions earn coveted invitations to compete in the annual World Junior Championship event which will be held in Kiama, Southern NSW. Previous champions include the likes of the late Andy Irons (HAW), Joel Parkinson (AUS), Gabriel Medina(BRA) and South Africa's Jordy Smith (ZAF) along with Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) and Jesse Miley-Dyer (AUS)
Elkington dominated the men's JQS, clinching three event titles in the five finals he contested and leading the rankings from start to finish. After finishing equal 25th at the 2016 WJC, the powerful natural-footer from Kommetjie is honoured to have qualified again and is looking forward to measuring his skills against his peers.
"This is my final year as a junior surfer and it's been the best year of my career so far. I'd never won a WSL Pro Junior event and this year I won three, which has been a huge confidence booster," Elkington explained. "The highlight was winning the Vans Surf Pro Classic against a stacked field including top internationals. That has given me the belief to take on the Qualifying Series (QS) in 2018.
"I'm very stoked to be representing WSL Africa in Australia, it's a privilege to represent such a strong surfing region with its great surfing heritage. The WJC is the most prestigious junior surfing event and the top 36 junior surfers from around the world will be competing. Many who have competed in this event have gone on to qualify for the Championship Tour and I see this as a checkpoint in my surfing career and a great opportunity to prove myself."
Elkington will be joined in the WSL Africa men's squad by experienced international campaigner Adin Masencamp (Strand), who finished equal 17th at the 2016 WJC and will be going all out to improve on that result in his final year in the junior rankings.
Joshe Faulkner (Jeffreys Bay), winner of the Jordy Smith Cape Town Surf Pro, and Max Elkington (Kommetjie), Jake's younger brother, will be making their debut appearances at the WJC, as will Ford Van Jaarsveldt (Kommetjie) who won the final event of the year, the Billabong Junior Series at Seal Point, and has been granted a wildcard for Kiama.
Sophie Bell (Salt Rock) and Kayla Nogueira (uMhlanga) fought a see-saw battle for supremacy in the 2017 WSL Africa junior women's rankings, with Bell winning three and Nogueira two of the first five events of the season. Bell narrowly outscored the 14-year-old rising star in the remaining events and will be keen to improve on her equal 13th place finish in the 2016 WJC.
"Getting second place in the first event in Port Elizabeth made me train harder for the next event which I ended up winning," said Bell, who won both the junior and QS1000 women's titles at the next stop in East London.
"After that I just needed to be consistent to qualify for the WSL junior championship in January, which is such an honour as there are so many talented surfers in this country. I've worked hard for my spot to compete with the world's best and to see how the top international surfers are progressing."
The 2017 WSL World Junior Championship will be held from January 4-12 at Bombo Beach in Kiama on the Beautiful South Coast of NSW. It will feature the top 36 Men and 18 Women Junior Surfers from around the globe. For more information visit www.worldsurfleague.com or check the WSL App.