- WSL / Laurent Masurel
- WSL / Laurent Masurel

The morning dawned gray and blustery, a dramatic departure from the last two days of kind conditions at the Junior Pro Espinho but the young competitors were ready.

It's hard to believe that most of the European Junior surfers on tour are just kids really. But the level of surfing on the European JQS grows by leaps and bounds each season.

Sprites who were tweaking around with fidget spinners in class just a year ago are now looking to dethrone veteran QS mainstays when they graduate in the coming seasons.

Uhaina Joly (FRA) .JRProEspinho18 Early round standout Uhaina Joly - WSL / Laurent Masurel

Case in point is Uhaina Joly whose YouTube appearances show a skinny, spindly blonde grom, not the surf brand poster girl she's now become. Uhaina earned the highest wave scores of the morning and of the day.

After stroking into the best wave of Heat 6 Round 2, she laid down a solid bottom turn followed by a big frontside carve. She repeated the same move through the middle section then ditched her fins through a lipslide on the inside section. With a backup of a 6.50 she was surfing at the QS level.

As the day wore on and the wind increased, blowing in cold from the south just ahead of a major storm, event organizers ran the Men's Round 4.

Lucia Machado (CNY) .JRProEspinho18 Lucia Machado earns a spot in the quarterfinals - WSL / Laurent Masurel

When the women returned for Round 3 the surf was more messy and solid scores were hard to come by. Many surfers like Biarritz' Juliette Lacome squeaked through their heats with single digit totals - in her case a 7.57.

"It's really tricky conditions out there, but there are still waves, just really windy and a bit high-tide and looking like home in Biarritz," said Juliette. "Luckily I got the five at the last minute and stayed in second to advance. So I'm happy to make it through and go to the next round."

The last heat of the women's Round was a nail-biter with the lead changing hands on several occasions. Maƫlys Jouault of Brittany took the win in the dying seconds on a non-remarkable wave that garnered a 3.93. She later chalked up the win to feeling right at home in the confused conditions.

Anat Lelior (ISR) .JRProEspinho18 Anat Lelior has been steady through the event - WSL / Laurent Masurel

"It was really complicated out there and really difficult to find the good waves," said the snappy regularfoot. "It's similar to the conditions we have in Brittany a lot. It's like my home spot Cap Frehel where it's hard to understand the waves and there's a lot of wind."

Maelys moves into the quarterfinals where she'll meet Juliette.

Sandwiched between the women's morning and afternoon rounds the men's side of the draw was heated as everyone scrambled for a slot in Round 5. Kauli Vaast continued strong. In heat 3 he stroked into a set wave and launched a series of backside turns, earning a 6.00 - enough to take the heat win.

Kauli Vaast (FRA) .JRProEspinho18 Kauli Vaast surfing solid in the early rounds - WSL / Laurent Masurel

"I was more confident today because the waves were better," said Vaast. "I had first priority and got the left for the 4.83. Then I paddled back to the peak with fourth priority. I got lucky and I got that right and did four or five turns, that's where I got the six."

Vaast moves on to Heat 2 of Round 5 where he'll meet Thibault Manson, Adur Amatriain and Maxime Dos Anjos.

In a sign of things to come, defending event champion Marco Mignot had the highest wave score of the day with an 8.57 earned for two big maneuvers.

Marco Mignot (FRA) .JRProEspinho18 Marco Mignot earned the highest wave score today - WSL / Laurent Masurel

While Marco and Uhaina both set the bar for the standard of junior surfing today, either of their in-form heats would have fit in at a QS event, showing the world that they're not really kids anymore.

The forecast is for a major storm to come ashore Friday night and run through Saturday with heavy seas, winds and rain.

Competitors and organizers will reconvene at 7:30 a.m tomorrow to asses conditions and potentially launch Men's Round 5 and the Women's Quarterfinal Rounds.

Check out all the photos, videos and updates from the Junior Pro Espinho at worldsurfleague.com.

World Surf League
Download it for free on the App store. Download it for free on Google Play.