Hawaii continues to produce some of the globe's best up-and-coming talents and 2021 brought full attention to that surge from the young women making their presence known amongst the Challenger Series contenders. A trifecta of teenagers including Gabriela Bryan of Kauai along with North Shore, Oahu's Luana Silva and Bettylou Sakura Johnson are taking on the world's best one event at a time - and proving they can keep up.
Bryan's Championship Tour (CT) qualification was secured after a second-consecutive runner-up finish in Portugal, Silva's win in France catapulted her to just one spot away from sheer elation, and Sakura Johnson sits a mere seven places behind the cut line heading into the Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold Haleiwa Challenger.
"Getting on the tour has been a goal of mine since I was little, but I definitely did not expect to have a chance so soon," said Sakura Johnson ahead of Haleiwa. "I guess it would be fair to say I have the home-field advantage here in Haleiwa but all the girls surf so good it's really anybody's game out there. And it looks like there's plenty of swell on the horizon so it should be an exciting event.
The 16-year-old upstart isn't leaving anything to chance heading into the final event and put the work in throughout the season to ensure just that. An with a community behind her, Sakura Johnson seems more than ready following her CT debut as a wildcard at the 2020 Roxy Maui Pro where she finished with an equal ninth.
"I wouldn't be doing this interview if it wasn't for all the support and encouragement I get from all the locals here in Haleiwa and the North Shore. So many people have helped me get where I am today I really want to honor their efforts, make them proud, and say thank you by putting on a good show for everyone."
Not every path is smooth and each new year presents new challenges - particularly for someone who would still be considered a Pro Junior aiming for CT qualification. However, she proves to be ahead of her years both competitively and mentally while still retaining the stoke of a teenager.
"This last year has been a huge learning experience for me especially these last three challenger series events as the name implies it's a challenge. I've learned that it will take more than just good surfing to win at this level because everybody rips. strategy and decision making play a big role in the outcome, and a little bit of luck doesn't hurt either."
"(My) mindset is strong and ready. I always want to improve on everything. I have one goal left for this year. Next year will bring new goals. Going to paddle out with a smile on my face, taking it step by step and enjoy every moment."
*Watch Bettylou Sakura Johnson take on some of the world's best and Challenger Series elite LIVE beginning November 26 - December 7.