The World Junior Championship is the closest thing to surfing's crystal ball. With 72 of the world's best junior surfers from all corners of the globe congregating in the punchy beachbreaks of Bombo Beach, Kiama, it is a chance to take a sneak peek at the very future of surfing. This year's event saw shock results, dents to the surfing superpowers and a level of surfing that showed that the sport's future is in very safe hands.
It's never easy being away from home when your home break is pumping. When your home break is Pipeline, it must be even harder. McGill, however, never switched his focus from the un-Pipeline-like beachbreaks of Kiama, or from his goal of being the latest World Champ from Hawaii. Finnegan Thunders McGill -- yes, that's his real name -- overcame early nerves and conditions that don't suit his strengths to steadily overcome all those who stood in his way. It was a dramatic and heavy week at home, but in Kiama, Finn kept his cool to make a huge statement.
Vahine Fierro's No-Shock Shock Win
Vahine Fierro's win was a shock result, with many unaware just how good the goofyfooter from the remote French Polynesian island of Huahine really is. However, there were signs last year that she was making huge ground in her quest to reach the top of the sport. The stylish goofyfooter had risen from 256 on the QS to 26th throughout 2017, courtesy of great performances in Australia, Hawaii and at home in Tahiti. In her first year on tour she has adapted quickly, with her natural curiosity and ability to speak four languages aiding and abetting her incredible talent. Over the last week her performances have backed up her QS form. With a top seed in 2018 there's no reason why she can't go on to become the first-ever Tahitian woman on the CT.
So Much for Home Advantage
Pre-tournament, a host of Australians were predicted by experts to go all the way. In the men's, Reef Heazlewood, who had made the Quarters the year before, had an impressive 2017 on both Junior and QS tours and was expected to go far. Similarly, Macy Callaghan was the clear favorite to retain the women's Title she had won the year before. However, in an event that started on these very shores 30 years ago, and which historically has unearthed a league of future Australian stars, the locals' return was poor. They did not have a representative in the Quarterfinals in the men's, and Callaghan and the young Zahli Kelly were the best finishers in the women's with their 5th-place finishes. Whether this was just a one-off or a longer term sign of a malfunction on the Aussie talent conveyor belt, only time will tell.
Japan's Rising Sons
Japan has a long and rich professional surfing history. However when Joh Azuchi and Yuji Nishi were drawn to face each other in the Semifinal, the country was about to have its first World Junior Championship Finalist. The two rising sons had met last year in Round Two, with Azuchi prevailing, but the regularfooters from the island of Shikoku have shown the talent to launch a two-pronged attack at the sport's top levels. Right now Japan is represented by California-based Kanoa Igarashi and Connor O'Leary, whose mum is Japanese, but they have never had a Japan-based surfer on the CT. Azuchi and Nishi might just change that in the future.
We've mentioned Australians Reef Heazlewood and Macy Callaghan as some high-profile casualties in the event, but they weren't the only favorites to meet a ghastly end in the pristine waters of the South Coast of NSW. Mateus Herdy and Samuel Pupo were heavily backed to do well, but both Brazilians left Kiama empty-handed. Hawaiian Cody Young couldn't match his Semifinal performance of 2016 and Rio Waida failed to get past the Quarters, despite being on fire over the last six months on the QS. And the reason? Well, it either shows that so-called surf experts can't be trusted, or that the pool of elite surfing at an international junior level is way deeper than first thought. Most probably, it's a combination of both.