A marathon opening day unfolded at the World Surf League (WSL) Men and Women's RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboards and Banzai Bowls. Two-to-three foot surf streamed into Newport Beach, California's, 56th Street Jetty with some inconsistency throughout the varying tide changes that the men and women still managed to deliver impeccable performances on.
Now, an all-important finals day awaits as the Top 2 women kept pace with potential threats. However, a few hefty upsets sent shocks through the men's rankings and there's plenty of moving room left open to advance.
Kirra Pinkerton Owns A Special Opening Day in Newport Beach
It marked a special occasion for the women, who made their mark on opening day of the first-ever WSL Women's Pro Junior event held in Newport Beach. Some of North America's top women 18-and-under picked apart the lineup amid tricky high tide conditions to start the day's proceedings.
Current No. 1 Kirra Pinkerton set the bar for what was to be expected with her decimating backhand to earn a near-perfect 9.00 (out of a possible 10). The San Clemente, California, representative then went on to earn the highest heat total of opening day with a 15.83 (out of a possible 20) and looks in form to solidify her spot atop the North America rankings.
"It felt good to get into rhythm right away since I was nervous not surfing a heat in a while and just getting my first wave was a relief," Pinkerton said. "I love new events and this wave is so fun, even when it's small, and I'd love to win it. That left was just perfectly lined up and it kept give me multiple opportunities to hit. It's already the Semifinals now so I'm just going to put all my focus into making that Final."
Tiare Thompson Keeps the Pressure On: "I'm Going Full Speed Ahead"
Tiare Thompson is coming to Newport Beach straight off a runner-up at the WRV Outer Banks Pro QS 1,000 earlier this month and followed up with a superb 14.77 heat total in Quarterfinal Heat 2. The 17-year-old picked up right where she left off on her dangerous backhand and could pose a threat to the Top 2 picture as both No. 3, 2017 North America Pro Junior Champion, Alyssa Spencerand No. 4 Eva Woodland are not in attendance.
"I came back from North Carolina right into some waves at home and I'm glad there's some today," Thompson said. "It's better than I expected so I'm glad there's great lefts out there and it's important to get my confidence up heading into the Semis. I'd love to get a big result here and move into second-place which makes me want to go after it that much harder. I'm definitely going full speed ahead."
Vans US Open finalist Kayla Coscino earned a Quarterfinal win of her own, eliminating top seeded threat Rachel Presti. Samantha Sibley finished the women's Quarterfinals bouts with a solid 7.73 and retains her position at No. 2 heading into finals day with a lot more work to do.
Also advancing on into the Semifinals, WRV Outer Banks Pro winner Makena Burke, Molly Kirk, Serena Nava, and Portuguese competitor Francisca Veselko are each looking for their own piece of history with a maiden Pro Junior win.
Battle For The Men's Top 4 Recommences
A marathon day for the men immediately followed as the blitzed through Rounds 1, 2, and Quarterfinal bouts -- separating the conditioned from the fatigued.
Current No. 1 Tyler Gunter debuted brilliantly in his Round 2 heat and carried that momentum into the Quarterfinals, notching two victories on home turf to begin his campaign. Gunter unleashed his signature forehand attack throughout the day, earning solid heat totals of 13.50 and 14.83, helping eliminate Top 4 contender Tommy Coleman with an explosive finish from Round 2 standout Dylan Hord, in his respective heats. The former event champion is looking for redemption after his runner-up last year and is leaving it all in the water each heat.
"It's a nerve-racking first day every year for this contest surfing those two heats and if I don't make it I'm just left watching the rest of the weekend," Gunter said. "I felt really focused today and it feels great to make it past those heats. I've surfed 56th like this a thousand times and it's different in a heat, but I still know which waves I want when it comes in. I'm fired up and I want it more than anything. It's the last year I can do it and I've been doing this event for a really time so I'd love to finish strong."
Kade Matson Keeps A Hungry Field at Bay, Crosby Colapinto Out
One of the event's most-anticipated heats got underway as San Clemente natives and World Junior Championship threats No. 7 Cole Houshmand, No. 2 Crosby Colapinto, and No. 4 Kade Matson had to deal with Round 2's surprise performer -- 15-year-old Beck Adler. Matson, Houshmand, and Colapinto got started right away with an opening exchange that Matson was able to come out on top of before finishing out the way he started -- helping lead to Colapinto's, dealing with a lower back problem, elimination with Houshmand's performance.
Matson's 9.17 in Round 2 went down as the day's highest single-wave score and looks poised to move higher into the Top 4 picture with his goals set high.
"Always having a good first heat is encouraging knowing you can get big scores and gives you a lot of confidence," Matson said. "That was a pretty gnarly last heat after I saw Crosby (Colapinto) get second in his heat I knew I'd be in that heat if I got first. It's always good to have heats with friends and to get through that one in particular is crucial after Bo (Raynor) lost in the heat before. It's a little added pressure being where I am because you know you have to get a good result to stay there."
Cracks Begin to Show, Chase Modelski Makes His Statement
A back and forth heat between Chase Modelski, newcomer Sean Dougherty, current No. 5 Bo Raynor, and Sage Burke finished with a big upset as Raynor's hopes of capitalizing on a Top 4 spot eluded him. Modelski's in-form backhand served him well as he blasted through the hefty Quarterfinal heat after advancing over Round 1 standouts Robert Grilho and Shane Frontino in Round 2. The Floridian is looking to match his career best runner-up result with a big Semifinal bout awaiting.
"That wave I got as soon as the buzzer sounded was awesome and felt really good to get things going right away," Modelski said. "It's good to get two Semifinals in a row and keep the ball rolling. Now I'm just staying focused on making another Final and going all out on every section I get. It's nice to have my backhand and being able to put it right in the lip and just let it go. Even having a chance at making a trip to Worlds depending on how this one goes is so nice."
Dougherty, Queensland, Australia, standout Cooper Davies, and Japanese competitor Taichi Hagita also added their names to the Semifinal draw and will contest for their first-ever Pro Junior wins Sunday.
The RVCA Pro Junior pres. by Jacks Surfboards and Banzai Bowls will get back in the water Sunday, September 23, beginning with women's Semifinals at 9:00 a.m. PDT.