The World Surf League (WSL) Men and Women's RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboards and Banzai Bowls crowned Tyler Gunter and Samantha Sibley its event champions, respectively. Conditions proved similar to yesterday's two-to-three foot, inconsistent swell, but if competitors showed their patience they were rewarded heavily with some of the day's best pulses.
It marked a historic win for Sibley, taking down the inaugural women's event and her first-ever WSL win, and a vital victory for Gunter which made it a second WSL Pro Junior title at his homebreak of 56th Street Jetty in Newport Beach, California.
Gunter Makes His Dream A Reality
Gunter's only two WSL victories have come on the sands of his hometown and made his dream a realization once more after putting in all the hard work.
A lackluster start to the men's Final caught fire in the last ten minutes with multiple opportunities heading toward the final buzzer. But, 56th Street Jetty delivered for the hometown hero Gunter once again as he needed a 5.93 (out of a possible 10) in the dying minutes and was gifted a gem from Mother Nature. The 18-year-old unleashed his vicious forehand attack on multiple sections and garnered a 6.40 to overtake the lead from eventual runner-up Chase Modelski after he took that spot from third-place finisher Cole Houshmand.
"This is what I wanted to do from the beginning of the contest and just to have this contest back, and win it, is just amazing," Gunter said. "It was so stressful standing up on that last wave. I waited for over fifteen minutes by the jetty after I decided to hold my ground and luckily one came to me. I'm just so stoked to put it all together in my last Pro Junior here and possibly the last time I get to do the Newport Beach Surf Championships."
Gunter began his finals day run to the top with a brilliant Semifinal performance on his backhand, earning a 7.33 to post one of the day's top heat totals of 15.50 (out of a possible 20). This win was an extra special occasion as it also helps him claim the North America Regional Pro Junior Title outright before the season's final event -- the Live Like Zander Junior Pro in Memory of Zander Venezia.
"I can't believe I got both my goals in one day, it's unbelievable," Gunter added. "I was ready to go into Barbados and just hold onto this No. 1 spot to get this title so I'm just stoked right now. It's great to be going back to Worlds with a high seed and now I can just enjoy this moment even more."
Sibley's Maiden Win Marks Historic Day for Women Pro Juniors
The 2018 edition of the RVCA Pro Junior will go down as a milestone after adding some of North America's top women 18-and-under to the mix, and fireworks ensued in the Final as Sibley's inspiring performance made it that much more spectacular.
The San Clemente, California, native had a similar finish to her amazing comeback, dropping a 7.43 in the final three minutes and went from fourth to first-place -- stealing the win from current No. 1 Kirra Pinkerton. Sibley leapfrogged event standouts Tiare Thompson and Makena Burke with her stunning forehand that notched her a 7.17 early on in the heat before finding the event-winning wave.
"It's so insane and I'm so excited to have this extra opportunity here, and I can't believe it," Sibley said. "I've been working hard and I'm glad to see it paid off like this. The waves were so fun and the girls were surfing so well, this means a lot to me. It was really cool being No. 2 and surfing against the No. 1 in the Final, and I just wanted to try and solidify my spot for Worlds."
This result helps put her closest contender, Thompson, in a must-win scenario at the Live Like Zander Junior Pro if she is to take the No. 2 spot from Sibley. The young Californian showed her nerves of steel as the clock wound down and will retain that confidence moving forward.
"It was pretty nerve-racking and I knew I only needed a 7 so I just had to calm down and land those two turns, not do anything crazy," Sibley added. "I just took a couple of deep breaths before that and felt pretty relaxed. It takes a lot of the pressure off heading to the next event because it's a huge goal of mine to qualify for Worlds and this really helps me."
The Top 4 Chase Lives On and Modelski's In the Picture
Eventual men's runner-up Modelski walks away from Newport Beach matching his best-career finish to date and now has an opportunity to shake up the Top 4 rankings in Barbados. Modelski was hunting the lineup for a 7.00 and earned a 6.43 to lower his requirement, as Gunter found his wave just moments before, but time ran out before he could find it. However, his 6.43 pushed him ahead of an inform Houshmand and pushed Australian threat Cooper Davies into fourth-place.
"I'm stoked to match my best result and also just get back-to-back Semifinals in events before getting a Final again is great," Modelski said. "Hopefully I can do one better in the next one and I'm just feeling a lot of momentum heading there. It's cool being the underdog guy and getting to show up is always great. I know my surfing's there and it's that much better putting it in a heat. I'm going into Barbados for a win, that's the only thing that matters now with what I have to do for a spot into the Top 4."
New North America Regional Champion, Kirra Pinkerton
It was a bittersweet finish for Pinkerton as she looked for an astonishing third win of 2018, but her runner-up performance did not go unnoticed. Her incredible backhand attack ripped into a 56th Street Jetty lefthander and garnered the event's single-highest wave score of 9.17 -- overtaking third-place Burke's insatiable 9.00 in the set prior as Thompson finished out in fourth-place.
"It felt pretty good to get that 9 and just knew I couldn't get fourth to stay ahead on the ranks, but I felt like I was set for the rest of that heat just needing a 5 so I'm bummed to not get it," Pinkerton said. "I'm so stoked for Sam (Sibley), she worked really hard for it and we've both surfed here a lot growing up so it's great to see this event happen at the Pro Junior level. I'll just have to focus on putting two waves together in a heat and work on wave selection in the next one."
But, while a third victory eluded the San Clemente native, Pinkerton still hoists the North America Regional Pro Junior Title after a remarkable season and heads into the final event of 2018 with a feeling of relief.
"Knowing I got the title here feels so good and I might still do Barbados anyway, but now I don't have to wait to the last minute of a heat of the last contest which is amazing," Pinkerton added. "This year has been so crazy good and I'm just so thankful. All these events are super fun, but they're so hard and this is the best feeling ever."
The next North America Pro Junior event will be the Live Like Zander Junior Pro in Memory of Zander Venezia at Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, Barbados, from November 6 - 11.