The 2021 Oakeberry Tweed Coast Pro Junior event has seen WSL competition return to Cabarita for the first time in almost 12 months with men's and women's Round 1 being run in small but clean surf on the back beach. The small and slow surf didn't detract from the excitement as some of Australia's best junior talent relished their first opportunity to compete at this level in over a year.
Cronulla upstart Jarvis Earle was one of the standouts of the opening day, progressing through his opening heat with one of the higher heat totals of the event so far. Having placed equal third in his last Pro Junior event back in March 2020, Earle is hoping to continue that form as he eyes off a top three spot on the rankings to guarantee a start at the WSL World Junior Titles.
"This is the first event on the junior series in over a year and a half so everyone is pretty excited to be back in the jersey," Earle said. "Even though the waves are small I'm just stoked to be back competing. That was an interesting heat for me -- I locked in a good score early then waited for a while then fell which was frustrating. I eventually got a couple more keepers and was happy to make the heat."
2020 saw Central Coast youngster Joel Vaughan claim his best ever Junior Series result with a second place finish at the Hydralyte Sports Queensland Pro Junior. After a year of training and perfecting his craft, Vaughan has come into 2021 with one thing on his mind, and that's to go one spot further and take victory at a junior event. Today Vaughan got his campaign off to a solid start, taking out his opening round heat at Cabarita.
"Getting second at that event last year showed me that I can definitely make it to the finals and last year I was happy with that result but this year I'd like to go one better for sure," Vaughan said. "Last year was good for stepping back from competition and working on certain aspects of my surfing but it's good to be back and working on implementing it in heats."
14-year-old Tweed local Dane Henry may have surfed his first ever WSL Pro Junior heat today but he looked like a true vetran, posting the second highest single wave score on the first wave he rode. Henry took off on a right and combined a great first carve with a huge lay-back snap on the closeout. Although he was unable to back up his excellent 8.50 ride with another solid score, it was still enough to take the heat win and progress into the next round.
"This is my first ever WSL Junior event and really I'm just here for experience," Henry said. "I saw some of the older guys were posting mid sevens and sixes and I was hoping to try and mix it with them so to post an excellent score feels really good. I live just up the road from here and have been surfing at this beach a bit recently so I am feeling confident out here."
Other standouts on Day 1 included Lennox Chell who posted the second highest single wave with a 7.50 for an impressive frontside carve to air-reverse combination. Saxon Reber posted on of the the highest heat totals of the day with a 13.25 two-wave combination.
In what was arguably the heat of the day, Japanese competitor Sai Maniwa went blow for blow against American based prodigy Sierra Kerr as each surfer posted the highest and second highest heat totals respectively. Maniwa displayed finesse and power to post an 8.75 single wave score to join a 6.75 backup. Although Kerr wasn't able to better Maniwa's two wave total of 15.50 but did earn herself a total of 14.50 for her fins free lay-backs and aerial surfing, an impressive effort for someone surfing in their first ever WSL event.
"I was really nervous before that heat," Maniwa said. "I made a few mistakes early and wasn't sure how it would play out until I scored that 8.75, then I relaxed a bit. Once I backed it up and knew my surfing felt good and I was winning the heat I could enjoy myself and have some fun. I'm feeling good now and am excited for tomorrow."
Zahli Kelly showed why she is pegged as an event favourite, posting one of the highest heat totals of Day 1 in one of her first Pro Junior appearances in over two years. The Cabarita local has opted to focus on the Qualifying Series for the last few years but saw a Pro Junior event at her local beach as too good of an opportunity to warm up for the upcoming QS5,000 event next week. The plan seems to be off to a great start with Kelly comfortably progressing through her opening heat today at Cabarita.
"It's funny coming back into a junior event after a few years away," Kelly said. "I didn't even have a seed when I entered, which felt weird for sure. I'm using this event to get a bit of heat practice before I surf in the QS which will really count. It was good to work on some strategy with my coach and focus on which waves to go for and where to sit -- good to get in some practice after a few months away from competition."
Be sure to check back in tomorrow as competition resumes with Pro Junior Finals Day on the Tweed Coast.
The event was officially opened today with a moving Welcome to Country performed by members of Juraki Surf and Culture lead by Joel Slabb. JURAKI is an Indigenous Not-For-Profit community entity committed to creating, supporting & partnering in community activities, programs and (sporting) events that give Indigenous similar yet culturally-sensitive opportunities to main-stream. "Closing the gap from the Indigenous perspective"
The Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro is supported by the NSW Government's Regional Events Acceleration Fund which encourages new major events to be delivered in regional areas, where they will have a positive impact on local economies.
The 2021 Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro QS5,000 and Pro Junior Events are set to run on the Tweed Coast from June 19 - 25.