Athletes as young as 12 fearlessly charged world-famous Pipeline today for the Pipe Pro Junior in a groundbreaking opportunity for local and international surfers age 18 and under. The clean WNW swell consistently pumped out 10-12-foot surf with wave faces exceeding 15 feet on the largest sets, and juniors like Hawaii's Kainehe Hunt, Japan's Daiki Matsunaga and Hawaii's Luke Swanson demonstrated confidence and boldness well beyond their years.
Hunt, 16, from Kauai, had a phenomenal performance during Round Two Heat 4 and posted the event's only perfect 10-point ride on a solid 10-foot Backdoor peak. The natural footer stalled off the bottom to set up a long, draining barrel and was cheered on by fans and fellow surfers across the beach.
"I saw the wave and I knew the kid in green (Dwight Pastrana) was going to go left because he's goofy-foot, so I kind of was thinking that this wave was a really good Backdoor wave," said Hunt. "I took off and couldn't knife it, so I faded and went straight and just stood there and I came out in front of Eli [Hanneman] and he was screaming at me. I don't know if he was upset or happy, but it was a good ride."
Minutes before his perfect ride, Hunt found an excellent 9.10 for a classic backhand Pipe barrel. He earned a heat total of 19.10 out of a possible 20 and set the benchmark for perfection at Pipe.
"This definitely is a confidence-builder," Hunt continued. "I feel like I can do even better than what I just did out there, and I have a lot of room for improvement, so I'm psyched up for tomorrow for sure. Pipeline is a scary form of Mother Nature, but we all love it because we get the thrill and the drive from it."
Hunt is home after a two-week trip to Tahiti where he placed 5th at the Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Pro Men's QS 1,000 in a similar barreling reef break, and 17th in both the Papara Pro Open Men's QS 1,000 and Papara Pro Junior. After securing the best single-wave score and heat total of the event, Hunt is feeling assured for a successful final day once competition resumes.
Defending Pipe Pro Junior winner and 2017 WSL Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Regional Junior Champion Mamiya, 18, demonstrated keen knowledge of the break when he posted the best ride of Round Two Heat 1, a 6.20, after quietly sitting in the lineup and assessing the best takeoff positioning. With only 60 seconds on the clock and sitting in last place, Mamiya dropped into Backdoor and threaded a nice barrel into the channel to jump into the number one advancing position.
"I wasn't too worried about it, if you lose you lose, there's always another contest," said Mamiya. "But that wave came and I was like, ‘Oh this could be a good one,' and then I bottom-turned and I pulled in and it was a good wave. When I kicked out I was hoping I got the score. The waves are hard, super hard, I didn't catch a wave until five minutes left in the heat so I'm stoked."
Seventeen minutes shy of completing Round 1, contest organizers had to put the event on standby due to a strong westerly front that slammed Pipeline with straight onshore winds, rain and uncontestable conditions. However, athletes in the first seven heats enjoyed perfect Pipe and once the event was called back on at 1 pm HST, Pipe and Backdoor turned on again to deliver more flawless surf.
"The waves this morning were perfect, best conditions you could ask for at Pipe," Mamiya continued. "Right now it's cleaning up and getting pretty good again, so I'm psyched to keep going. The waves are fun and hopefully tomorrow is good too."
Mamiya sits in the No. 7 position on the QS after a runner-up finish at the Burton Automotive Pro Men's QS 6,000 and is focused on qualifying for the Championship Tour (CT) in 2019. He is treating the Pipe Pro Junior as a high-rated QS event and looking to gain more competitive experience in the meantime.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself just to get better as a surfer," Mamiya said. "Of course I want to qualify, I'm putting pressure on myself to do it; I'm training, I'm trying to eat good and do all the right things and if it doesn't happen there's always next year, I'm still super young, so whatever happens, happens. But I'm just focused on myself and going to treat the comp like a QS and keep going."
Daiki Matsunaga, 16, earned one of the highest single wave scores of the day, a 9.10 for a late drop and committed bottom turn into a deep barrel that he emerged out of after the spit on a solid 12-foot wave face. Matsunaga competed last at the Minami Boso Junior Pro in Chiba, Japan, and also put in time two miles down the road at another revered break, Sunset Beach, for the Sunset Open and Pro Junior in January.
Regional Junior front-runner McHale, 16, nabbed a heat win ahead of Hawaii's Luke Swanson after coming off of a runner-up finish in Tahiti at the Papara Pro Junior Tahiti and a fourth at the Sunset Pro Junior. He has made it a top priority to keep his results consistent for ultimate qualification into the World Junior Championships in Australia.
Swanson, 14, charged the massive surf with confidence and enjoyed the occasion to compete with the older juniors that he has grown up admiring.
"It's an honor because I've always looked up to these guys as a kid," said Swanson. "Just growing up watching them kill it out here and now I'm in a heat with them, I just trip out on that. They're so good out here so I'm stoked. It's crazy because on a normal day there's a full pecking order and you only really get the scraps, so with only three other guys out there it's pretty much like a dream because you never get it on any other day of the year."
Billabong surf coach and former CT challenger Rainos Hayes (HAW) was on hand to support the young surfers and encourage them in the challenging conditions. As a seasoned competitor himself, Hayes is aware of the both the physical and mental challenges of tackling the beautiful yet dangerous wave at Pipeline.
"The size of the surf that we had out here this morning was enough to make any CT or QS surfer have to second guess what they're made of," said Hayes. "I think the only difference there is that pros know they can and are willing to push themselves outside their boundaries. With kids, it's still a learning process and the majority of the kids have never been in conditions like this, let alone this size at Pipeline, so it was a learning experience for almost all of them. There's a handful of kids that can play at this level, and they're all playing, so it's pretty incredible."