"I don't even know what to say," said Hawaii's Finn McGill after claiming the 2017 World Junior Championship on Wednesday. "I can barely talk right now. I don't know what's wrong with me. This is crazy."
It was the first time all week the happy Hawaiian was at a loss for words. He was as loose as they come during his previous post-heat interviews, and there were quite a few of them today. But given the magnitude of becoming a World Junior Champion, it's understandable. He'd just defeated Japan's rising star Joh Azuchi, to clinch the Final of an event he wasn't even thinking he'd make it to at one point.
"I came into this event feeling about 85 percent, still dealing with an injury. Then I nearly missed my flight here, too, so when I got here I wasn't really expecting to do well."
Indeed, Finnegan Thunders McGill, who first sent shock waves across the globe back in December of 2016 when he won the Pipe Invitational as a 16-year-old, surfed the entire Vans Triple Crown hobbled by an injury he suffered skateboarding. He bombed out early at the Hawaiian Pro and Vans World Cup as a result.
But despite a Round One stumble in some playful stuff at Bombo Beach, McGill eventually found his groove, despite several rounds held in trying conditions. He was hitting the accelerator hard all week on his Slater Designs board, squeezing off vicious, rapid-fire hacks in tricky, target-rich surf that demanded fast reflexes and precision paths.
By the time he reached the Quarterfinals, surfing against his longtime friend and rival Barron Mamiya, Finn realized he wasn't feeling the pain. After finishing in 3rd place in this same event last year, the opportunity to go all the way was right there at his fingertips again, and at that point all the self doubt disappeared. Something inside clicked when he got past Mamiya. "We've been friends and rivals since we were four," McGill explained. "He's had such a good year, winning the Rookie of the Year at the Triple Crown. That was nerve-wracking. I'm so stoked. Time for a couple more."
He endured a marathon day. Officials decided to make the most of the remnant storm surf pouring through. They pressed ahead for 13 hours straight (28 heats) to put the last of the 2017 World Titles to bed.
With a number of notable names being upset early, including Australia's Reef Heazlewood and Brazil's Mateus Herdy, the Quarterfinals were a mix of well-known stars, like Hawaii's Cody Young, Brazil's Samuel Pupo, Indonesia's Rio Waida and some unheralded surprises, like Japan's one-two punch of Joh Azuchi Yuji Nishi, as well as Brazil's Joao Chianca.
The most shocking stat for the Australians was that there wasn't a single one of them in the Quarterfinals. It's more notable considering the roots of this prestigious event date back more than 30 years, when it was an Aussie-only affair.
The Hawaiians seemed to be making a strong push, but Mamiya fell victim to McGill's friendly fire. Young, who finished third in last year's event at Kiama, looked determined to go the distance this time, right up until he was nailed for a paddling interference in his Quarterfinal match against Nishi.
Meanwhile, it was a proud day for Japan, with Yishi and Azuchi squaring off against each other in what amounted to a slug-fest of a Semifinal. Both surfers looked razor-sharp in the bumpy conditions. They put their compact, muscular frames to good use with powerful snaps and lightning- quick hacks, but Azuchi eventually won the battle.
McGill got past a very strong Chianca in the second Semifinal, as the lead changed back and forth. Chianca, who arrived without a sponsor, certainly did himself some favors this week by turning more than a few heads.
By the time the Final came around McGill wasn't going to be denied. He found a long left early on and unloaded a flurry of backhand hacks to open with an 8. He backed that up with an 8.9 about 15 minutes later and had Azuchi in a combination situation by the time the buzzer sounded.
McGill joins a long list of legendary World Junior Champions that includes Tom Carroll, Mark Occhilupo, Kelly Slater, Andy Irons and Joel Parkinson (just to name a few). Aside from a nice mantle piece, he's walking away with a massive boost as he sets out on the 2018 Qualifying Series. McGill is rewarded with a Round of 64 seed in any QS event he enters. That basically means he skips two of the toughest early rounds in every QS 10,000 event, and if you want to know how much that helps just ask Griffin Colapinto, who used his seed from being a Finalist in last year's event to become the 2017 Qualifying Series Champion.
McGill, like Colapinto, has proven he's capable of competing in any kind of condition, so he stands a pretty darn good chance heading into this year...but he may want to stay off of his skateboard for now.
Results of 2017 Jeep World Junior Championship
Finn McGill (HAW) 16.90 def. Joh Azuchi (JPN) 11.00
Heat 1. Joh Azuchi (JPN) 11.00 def. Yuji Nishi (JPN) 5.00
Heat 2. Finn McGill (HAW) 11.70 def. Joao Chianca (BRA) 11.00
Heat 1. Joh Azuchi (JPN) 10.17 def. Rio Waida (IDN) 6.56
Heat 2. Yuji Nishi (JPN) 9.67 def. Cody Young (HAW) 6.83
Heat 3. Finn McGill (HAW) 16.03 def. Barron Mamiya (HAW) 8.06
Heat 4. Joao Chianca (BRA) 13.54 def. Samuel Pupo (BRA) 13.07