The surfing community of Newport Beach, California, rejoiced once more as Tyler Gunter brought the RVCA Pro Junior pres by Jack's Surfboards and Banzai Bowls title back to his home city. It marked the 18-year-old's third consecutive Final at 56th Street Jetty yielded a second victory over Chase Modelski, Cole Houshmand, and Cooper Davies after his 2016 win and runner-up in 2017.
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 Modelski after he took that spot from third-place finisher 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."
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."
Houshmand Joins the Hunt
San Clemente was well represented once more on finals day with Samantha Sibley and Kirra Pinkerton's one-two finish in the women's event, and Houshmand earning his second Finals appearance of 2018. Houshmand came out firing in the Semifinals, garnering the day's highest heat total of 15.50, and looked to be Gunter's most formidable threat to his win. The 17-year-old got to an early lead with his first two scoring waves, but couldn't hold that position and now looks to defend his Live Like Zander Junior Pro title for a shot at the Top 4 finish.
"I would've liked to gotten a win or at least second just because the point separation between second and third is pretty big, but I'm stoked to make another Final," Houshmand said. "I'm happy with the way I surfed this event and just bummed I couldn't put it together in the end. This gives me a little bit better of a chance going into Barbados and there's a lot more confidence heading there after this event, especially after my result last year."
First Finals Appearance by International at Newport Beach Since 2015
As in many of the North America Pro Junior events, international talents are scattered among the region's top competitors and Davies held firm as this year's most volatile -- going from Round 1 to the Final. Both the Queensland, Australia, native and Japanese competitor Taichi Hagita earned Semifinal berths, but it was Davies who found his way into the Final -- the first since Kalani David in 2015. While no points go to the 18-year-old's account, some prize money and experience outside his home region never hurt.
"It's such a good feeling being able to build heat by heat and progress to the Finals means so much," Davies said. "It was such a great experience and being able to widen my horizons overseas, and seeing what the competing is like elsewhere is a big part of me succeeding. Now it's just seeing what happens next, but next year I'll give the QS a good crack and see how it goes."
The next North America Pro Junior event will be the season's last -- the Live Live Like Zander Junior Pro in Memory of Zander Venezia at Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, Barbados.