In the most dramatic WSL Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Pro Junior event of the year and one of the first big swells of the North Shore season, Kauai's Keala Tomoda-Bannert and Maui's Eli Hanneman fought their way to victory at the HYSDO Pro Junior at Turtle Bay Resort. Simultaneously, Kauai's Gabriela Bryan and Oahu's Barron Mamiya earned the Regional Junior Champion title and a cash Travel Award from event sponsor HYSDO (Hawaii Youth Surfing Development Organization).
It was an action-packed day of competition at the right-handed point break of Pool Bars, with high stakes and massive qualification implications on the line for Hawaii/Tahiti Nui's top 18 and under athletes. The regional Pro Junior series began this past January four miles up the coast at the Sunset Pro Junior, then moved to Tahiti, Pipeline and finally culminated today at Turtle Bay Resort with Gabriela and Barron earning the title and top spots into the World Junior Championship this December 1 - 9 in Taiwan.
Although the two scored the highest regional award for the Pro Junior series, they settled for runner-up finishes in the HYSDO Pro Junior at Turtle Bay Resort, as it was Keala and Eli's time to shine.
Hanneman had the highest single wave score and most clutch performance of the entire competition, a 9.0 in the dying 20 seconds of the Final to take the win from Mamiya. The heat was stacked as two more standouts, Wyatt McHale, 3rd place, and defending World Junior Champion Finn McGill, 4th place, heated up the competition and pushed the progression of the sport.
The 30-minute Final opened with a nice combination of turns from Wyatt, followed by one of Barron's top-scoring rides, a 7.75 for a vertical snap and frontside blow-tail reverse that set the bar for the progressive heat. Finn worked his opening ride with power turns and pushed the degree of difficulty in the critical part of the wave for a 7.40, while Eli immediately followed up with a high-risk maneuver that the judges awarded a 6.90.
The Junior Men continued to trade waves while intensity built as they took to the air to demonstrate radical surfing and up the ante with each ride. Barron's power surfing stood out against the other finalists and he seemed to have locked the win, however with seconds left on the clock, Eli boosted a massive air over a big section and the judges tallied 9's across the board.
"I'm super stoked to win, I didn't feel too much pressure just because everyone was way older than me," said Eli, 15. "I didn't think there was going to be another opportunity because there was seconds left, and then a wave rolled under everyone and I picked it off and it had a big ramp on the inside. My only option was to go for an air and luckily I made it."
With today's victory, Eli will have the opportunity to compete in Taiwan for his second consecutive World Junior Championship. He also hit a year-long goal by winning today's Pro Junior event, and for 2019 he plans to compete in more QS events around the world alongside the regional circuit.
The Women's Final was a battle royal between Keala, Gabriela, Luana Silva, 3rd place, and Leila Riccobuano, 4th place, since the four girls also held the top four positions on the regional rankings. The foursome fought individually for the event win, plus two coveted slots into the World Junior Championships; ultimately Keala and Gabriela earned the day's highest accolades.
"I feel super stoked right now," said Keala. "Coming into this contest I knew I was ranked third and needed to get second to make it to the Championships. This has been a goal for as long as I can remember, winning a Pro Junior, and I'm super stoked to win it here."
Keala has come close to finishing first multiple times, with a runner-up result in Tahiti and at Pipe this year, plus a final appearance at last year's Pro Junior at Turtle Bay Resort. However today marks her inaugural WSL victory. "A win here definitely feels special because it's the last of the season and the top four of us that were in the Finals today were rivaling for the Championship," she added.
In the last Pro Junior event of his career, Barron's runner-up finish saw him move up the ratings from fifth to first and successfully defend his 2017 Regional Pro Junior Champ status for back-to-back titles.
"Coming into this I didn't think I would make number one, but I'm super stoked to make it, especially in my last year," said Barron. "It would be great to represent Hawaii in Taiwan, the best juniors in the world go there so I'm psyched to be a part of that and get a chance to go."
Although the regional Pro Junior series has wrapped, Hawaii's surf season is just beginning with the HIC Pro Men's QS 3,000 next on the WSL Hawaii/Tahiti Nui horizon (October 27 - November 9). Barron plans to concentrate his energy toward qualifying for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (November 12 - December 20) through the local qualifier event that takes place at Sunset Beach. "The Pro Junior season is done here, and the ending of the QS is coming up in (Vans) Triple Crown, so really it's all just starting," Barron continued. "I have a chance to qualify so I'm just going to focus all my attention on that."
For Gabriela, the Regional Pro Junior Champion title was all but cinched up prior to today's result after she took home a string of solid results in 2018; first place at the Sunset Pro Junior and runner-up at the Papara Pro Vahine Junior Tahiti. She also earned the Regional QS title this season with two additional wins at the Papara Pro Vahine Open Tahiti and Wahine Pipe Pro.
"I'm super stoked to win the regional title for the juniors and go to Taiwan for Worlds," said Bryan. "I wanted to win both, (regional title and today's event), but I've had a good year and I'm stoked for Keala and I'm just really happy to win the regional title, since that was my goal coming here."