The concluding event of the WSL Hawaii/Tahiti Nui regional Pro Junior series launched with the first few rounds of competition ending in favor of frontrunners Wyatt McHale (HAW) and Gabriela Bryan (HAW), who currently lead the Men's and Women's regional Pro Junior rankings respectively. The two progressed one step closer to securing not only the Regional Junior Champion title, but also the event win and a prominent slot into the World Junior Championship in Taiwan this December.
Bryan, who currently tops both the regional Pro Junior and regional QS circuits, dominated her Round 1 battle with the best combined two-wave total of the heat, a 13.75 out of a possible 20, and put a stamp of confidence on her rankings lead. The Kauai athlete has four WSL victories under her belt for 2018 and is keenly eyeing a fifth to secure the title and a slot into the prestigious World Junior Championship, which will take place December 1 - 9, 2018.
"I've never been to Taiwan, but I'm sure it's really cool and I'm sure there's some great waves so hopefully I can get a good result here and make it to the World Juniors," said Bryan. She was points ahead of fellow competitors today and secured an early advantage after earning a 6.75 for a combination of powerful frontside maneuvers, then scored a 7.00 later in the heat to advance in front of Tahiti's Aelan Vaast (PYF).
Bryan flew to Oahu a week early to put in time at the venue and is pleased with today's conditions at Pool Bars, the right-hand point break at Turtle Bay Resort. "There's been some really good waves, we've had a lot of swell lately and it's been super fun so I'm stoked to get a few practice days in before the contest," Bryan continued. "The waves are super fun today and there's a couple different peaks so I'm just trying to stay really focused, take it heat by heat and just do my best and stick to my game plan."
Keala Tomoda-Bannert (HAW), 16, had the best combined heat total of the entire day, a 16.00, and advanced into the Quarterfinals where she will go against defending QS Regional Winner, Savanna Stone (HAW) once competition resumes. Tomoda-Bannert currently sits in the No. 3 position on the regional Pro Junior rankings and with only two invites available to Taiwan, she is focused on finding a good result at this event in the hopes of representing Hawaii abroad.
"I'm trying to win this one so I can get up into the second ranking right now and then go to the Junior Championships," she commented. "It would mean a lot to me, I would definitely have a lot of pressure, but I'm just sticking to the game plan and focusing."
In the Men's division, McHale worked toward dropping his low score of the season, a Semifinal finish at the Pipe Pro Junior in March, and easily advanced today into the next round along with second place athlete Makana Franzmann (HAW). At 17 years old, McHale has another year to compete in the Pro Junior series, which helps ease the pressure as he heads into the final day at the HYSDO Pro Junior at Turtle Bay Resort.
"It feels like the Juniors have flown by pretty fast," McHale commented. "It seems like not too long ago I was one of the younger kids in it and now I'm one of the older kids. I've never been to the World Juniors and I'd definitely like to go, but if I can't go this year I have another year in the Juniors so that could be an option."
McHale scored an excellent 8.50 for a blow tail reverse and snap on the end section to tie Barron Mamiya (HAW) and Shion Crawford (HAW) for the highest single wave score of the day. He nailed his backup score, a 6.25, on his opening ride in Round Two Heat 1 and will compete against defending event winner, Ocean Macedo (HAW), Kai Martin (HAW) and Dylan Franzmann (HAW) tomorrow in Round 3.
"The conditions are pretty fun for Turtle Bay," McHale said. "There's some good waves out there and the 25-minute heats makes it easy to wait and select the right waves. The swell is picking up, so tomorrow will probably be really good."
In his very first Pro Junior event, Crawford, 13, scored the highest single wave score of Round 1, an excellent 8.50 after taking a big risk on his first maneuver and maintaining confidence with a lip glide and strong committed turns. In Round 2, he continued his tear with stylish surfing, another excellent 8.25 score and a combined heat total of 14.75 for a spot in Round 3 against Eimeo Czermak (PYF), Robert Grilho (HAW) and Sage Tutterow (HAW).
"This is my first Pro Junior and I'm pretty stoked on it because I wanted to try and beat the kids that are better than me, learn some lessons and work on stuff," said Crawford. "In my last heat I got an 8.5, I was really excited, surprised too. If I make it to the Semifinals or the Finals, I'll just be super happy. I'm going to try and compete more in Pro Juniors and at least try to make it to Worlds eventually. And I really want to do the (Vans) Triple Crown, one of my home breaks is part of it, Haleiwa, so I'd like to compete there."
Defending Regional Pro Junior Champion, Mamiya, has targeted international QS events this year instead of concentrating squarely on the regional events. However, he is still committed to delivering a strong performance at the HYSDO Pro Junior at Turtle Bay Resort.
"A lot of my focus has gone toward the QS, since I didn't go to Tahiti to do the Pro Junior there," said Mamiya. "This event is more just to enjoy myself and do my thing, but even with the QS, I've been trying to go out in my heats and free surf. I definitely want to practice that because I feel like that is when I surf my best. When I put pressure on myself, I'm not surfing as well as I could in a heat so that has been my strategy."