Finals day implications were apparent right away to start the RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboard and Banzai Bowls, the third stop for North America's Pro Junior women and fourth stop for men, with both Semifinal draws determined. Opening day seemed off to a grim start with troubling winds but swell was noticeable from the first horn and as the day unfolded, winds and gloomy skies gave way to sunshine and pristine conditions for the remaining affairs.
Top seeds from both the men and women debuted brilliantly and contenders toward the top ranks emerged to match with plenty on the line.
Nick Marshall Saves the Best for Last
While the day witnessed multiple excellent scores, meaning an 8.00 or higher out of a possible 10, it was Encinitas, California's, Marshall who delivered an detrimental performance to close out opening day. The 18-year-old hasn't had success on home soil so far in 2019 but relished in Pro Juniors abroad, making two finals day appearances between Chile and Portugal, but was able to finally turn that into a big performance near home. Marshall's 8.83 and 16.66 (out of a possible 20) were the day's best and now sets his eyes on a third-career Final appearance.
"Honestly my mindset coming into this one was to win it since I haven't been doing too hot in the US events this year," Marshall said. "It's super cool watching my older brother Jake and seeing how he goes about an event, and just trying to bring it into this. I wanted to wait just with the tide dropping out, waves were closing out more so you had to pick the right ones. Now I'll just not over think it and give it my all."
Contenders Prepared to Fight, Lindblad Siblings Thrive
Last year's No. 2 ranked Samantha Sibley debuted with a brilliant showcase to begin a run toward back-to-back wins in Newport Beach and regain footing in the race toward the Top 2. But it was Sawyer Lindblad who stole the show in the heat prior as she continues a breakout year among the Pro Junior contingent. This marks Lindblad's first full year taking on the WSL and has proven she's ready to begin mixing it up with the region's best with an equal 9th in Florida and Semifinal finish at the Vans US Open of Surfing.
"The waves are super fun and it's just my second time surfing this break so I was psyched to do well," Lindblad said. "I surfed here yesterday morning and I noticed you just had to sit by the jetty to wait for the peelers to come through. My brother (Taj) has been surfing in these events for about two years now and I've just been getting excited to do them watching him compete so it's really fun."
After a brilliant display in Round 3 with the day's highest single-scoring wave of an 8.83, Pro Junior rookie Tex Mitchell couldn't keep that pace against some of North America's best - facing elimination by current No. 3 Jett Schilling and Lindblad's brother Taj. The elder Lindblad sibling surged in his Round 3 debut but looked on his way out of competition until the final seconds in Quarterfinal Heat 3 needing a 6.48 and garnering a 6.93 to go from third-place to first and earn a third Semifinals appearance in 2019 at the buzzer.
"It meant a lot to me because my goal is to make WSL Junior Championships and I had that in my mind the entire heat," Lindblad said. "It got me fired up to get the score on my last one. [Through my experience this year] I learned that I need to get the best waves of the heat and get a good backup. The last two Semifinals I lost were due to a small backup score so that is what I've been working on."
Mexico's breakthrough talent of 2019 Alan Cleland continues his impressive run through events and heads to a third Pro Junior Finals day appearance of the season as he looks to break into the Top 3. The Pascuales native is no stranger to pulsing conditions and threw caution to the wind with an incredible backside air-reverse to garner a 7.83 on the one major maneuver. Cleland's mindset has shifted since first giving the Pro Juniors a full run in 2018 and has carried that confidence to a successful year that he's hoping to cap off with bigger aspirations.
"I've been having a blast today just with the waves being so fun and my goal is to get into that Top 3 - hopefully try and get my first win here but who knows," Cleland said. "That was probably the best backside air I've ever done in my life to be honest, I had no idea I was going to land it. I'd be stoked just to make the next heat and go from there. Hopefully it just goes my way and I've learned to just have fun, keep a smile on my face whether it's a win or a loss and that's all I've been doing. It's great to have my dad giving me advice in heats and also tells me to stay calm which always helps me."
North America No. 1's Continue Their Reign into Finals Day
Both current North America Pro Junior No. 1 Caitlin Simmers and No. 2 Bree Smith powered their way into the Semifinals with a dominant performance from Simmers in her debut heat - accruing the women's best single-wave score of 8.50 (out of a possible 10) and heat total, a 15.83 (out of a possible 20). A win would solidify Simmers' flawless season and secure her first-ever North American Regional Pro Junior title, something she has her eyes locked in on.
"The waves are really fun so I'm just happy to make it through the heat after it looked bad earlier," Simmers said. "It looked kind of bad this morning so I was glad we started later. It's really cool to make it into another finals day and hopefully I can win this one too."
Fellow No. 1 Kade Matson made work of the lefthanders that began pulsing in his Round 3 debut and continued that form into the Quarterfinals with a 15.96 heat total. Matson sits in the same position as Simmers, a win would secure his maiden Regional Pro Junior title, but his focus remains laser-sharp on the task at hand while enjoying the moment.
"This is definitely a nerve-racking contest because I want to win the season but not really trying to think about it too much," Matson said. "I was stoked to make a few heats today and you just have to go out and have fun. Everyone's in the same conditions and I was not expecting to get pumping waves today after it was so small yesterday so this was amazing."
Competition will be off tomorrow as the event coincides with the 31st annual City of Newport Beach Surfing Championships that features local legends along with the community's next generation of surfers.
The women's RVCA Pro Junior Semifinals will begin Sunday, September 29, at 10am PDT.
The RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboards and Banzai Bowls will run September 27 - 29 at 56th Street Jetty, Newport Beach, California.