Each year, the Junior Tour graduates its 18-year-olds to a full-time Qualifying Series (QS) career to pursue their dreams of joining the Championship Tour (CT). The upcoming Ron Jon Quiksilver and Roxy Junior Pro events in Cocoa Beach, Florida, that will be held March 8 - 11 marks the start of these juniors' North America season.
This year will bid adieu to 2017 North America Regional Junior Champion Ryland Rubens, No. 2 John Mel, No. 3 Che Allan and No. 6 Luke Gordon (to name a few) to the QS. But, with those departures, the stage is now set for a few more competitors to step up and make a statement of their own.
Here are those preparing for their last year among the Pro Junior ranks to make a run toward that coveted Top 4 finish and make a World Junior Championship appearance.
2017 Ranking: No. 4
Hometown: Newport Beach, California
Gunter made a big breakthrough in 2016 by winning his first WSL Pro Junior event at his homebreak of 54th Street Jetty. But, the win didn't translate to a World Junior Championship spot by season's end and Gunter came back in 2017 with a mission in mind - to finish in the Top 4.
Gunter's easy-going personality outside of the water translates to a focused competitor once his heat is upon him. That focus helped him earn a Finals appearance at the last event of the year helped secure his WJC goal and now he comes back for one last go before heading off to the QS ranks next year.
2017 Ranking: No. 5
Hometown: San Clemente, California
If the talent pool in San Clemente wasn't already deep enough, Houshmand reminds the surfing community that they are still coming out by the swarms. Unfortunately for the 17-year-old, his late December birthday is somewhat of a burden as it falls before the December 31st cut-off and will also be graduating to the QS alongside Gunter.
But, Houshmand's final year in the Pro Junior ranks has him set for a big one with his first-ever win coming at the last event of 2017 and is already making an impression at the recent QS 6,000 leg in Australia. With a full year ahead to sharpen every edge of his competitive knife, it will be a fun season to witness.
2017 Ranking: No. 9
Hometown: Ventura, California
From jaw-dropping airs to a searing rail game, Osborne's freesurfing antics have garnered hype that relate him to the freesurf master and fellow Central Californian Dane Reynolds. The 17-year-old has earned sporadic success with only two Finals appearances (both at the Los Cabos Open of Surf in 2016 and 2017), but his surfing is never in question.
What has plagued the young competitor in previous seasons, then? Answer: Injury. Osborne's undergone two knee surgeries already after tearing his meniscus following the Vans US Open in 2016, sidelining him for five months before re-injuring the same knee just after Los Cabos last year. But, he's dialed in at 100 percent heading into this year which makes him one to watch.
His advice: "Don't rush the healing process. There will always be more contest, but you have only one body, so take your time to heal and listen to your doctors!"
Also heading into the QS elite with one last shot at a breakthrough year before moving on:
Keep up with these competitors and more at the Ron Jon Quiksilver Junior Pro March 8 - 11 in Cocoa Beach, Florida.