Brother and sister Kauli and Aelan Vaast have won the Azores Pro Junior today, claiming victory in the Finals held in fun three-to-four foot lefts and rights at Praia de Santa Barbara, on the island of Sao Miguel, Azores. The last stop on the 2022-23 European JQS, the Azores Pro Junior was facing a very challenging forecast for Sunday and Monday and had to be completed in a single day of competition today.
The formats were reverted to four-surfer heats only and competition unfolded on two separate peaks for most of the day until it went back to a single bank for the Semis and Finals this afternoon. An incredible 54 heats were completed today and the Finalists had to surf 5 times for the men and 4 times for the women.
With the European Junior title and qualification for the WSL Junior Championships (WJC) on the line, the day was filled with drama and big performances from the best European surfers under the age of 20.
Men's Final: European Stars Spoil Regional Title and WJC Race
The men's Final featured two very familiar faces, Kauli Vaast from Tahiti who most notably came runner-up at the Outerknown Tahiti Pro Championship Tour event this summer and Adur Amatriain, the reigning European junior champ who's making waves on the QS and CS this year. It also featured two lesser known surfers from the Basque Country in Bitor Garitaonandia and Keoni Lasa.
Vaast and Amatriain were in a league of their own and battled for the win without looking back, but the implications went deeper than just the event crown. Garitaonandia had managed to secure the European title prior to the Final but Lasa had a shot at making the coveted rankings Top 2 and snatch a ticket for the WJC. The young Basque needed to win the event to overtake the current No.2 in the rankings and he couldn't quite match the rhythm Vaast and Amatriain brought to the Final today.
Eventually the Tahitian claimed the event win, the sixth of his career on the JQS, and put an exclamation mark on an exceptional career as a junior surfer.
"I'm super happy to win today for my last pro junior," Vaast said. "Two years ago I thought my time as a junior was over and then the age limit was brought back higher so I'm happy I got another opportunity. It's unreal to win here, a place that I really appreciate and to win the event just after my sister won as well. I really hope I'll be able to enter the WJC, it would be a special way to finish my career as a junior for sure."
Vaast, who did not compete in all the European JQS events this season due to other commitments, finished outside the Top 2 and as such is not directly qualified for the WSL Junior Championships. He has however made an application for a wildcard into the event.
Bitor Garitaonandia capped off a great season on the European JQS where he won in Morocco, made the Quarters in Ferrol and reached the Final today in Azores to claim his maiden European title in his final year as a junior.
"I'm super super stoked to win this title," Garitaonandia said. "I was really struggling last year and this title definitely boosts my confidence. If someone told me 6 months ago I'd win the title I wouldn't have believed it, so it feels a bit unreal but I'm stoked because I put so much work into it. This was my one goal this season, every single day since January I woke up and wrote in my phone ‘I'm going to be the European Champion' and I think I started believing it at some point."
The 20-year-old from the Basque Country now sets his sights on the WJC and the rest of the QS season where he aims to qualify for the Challenger Series (CS) of next season.
Adur Amatriain took home the runner-up spot in the Azores Pro Junior and Keoni Lasa placed third. France's Noa Dupouy finished the season ranked 2nd in Europe and as such should receive the second spot for the WJC.
Women's Final: Another Vaast Dominates, Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri Claims Historic Third European Junior Title
The women's Final was another French vs. Basque affair between Aelan Vaast, sisters Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri and Annette Gonzalez Etxabarri and Sarah Leiceaga. Once again plenty of scenarios were at play with the two sisters fighting for the regional junior title and the two French surfers chasing a spot in the WJC.
The Tahitian Vaast dominated the heat to the screams and cheers of her brother on the rocks and left nothing to chance, claiming the event win with a solid 14.33 total when her opponents struggled to put two average numbers on the board. This effectively ended all hopes of Annette Gonzalez Etxabarri to overtake her sister Janire on the rankings for the title, and Leiceaga also needed a win to claim the second qualifying spot for the international junior final.
"It's such a unique feeling to win an event and especially here for me," Vaast said. "This place feels like home in many ways and I really enjoyed competing today. The qualification was a total surprise for me and such a good one! Winning with my brother today is an awesome memory we'll remember for a long time."
With two wins under her belt this season in Ferrol and Azores and a 9th place in La Torche, Vaast capped off a solid season and climbed to No.2 in the rankings, sealing her spot for the WJC in California next year.
The reigning European Junior Champion Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri captured a third consecutive title with her runner-up finish today in Azores, a first on the European Junior Qualifying series. A win in Morocco, two runner-up finishes in Ferrol and Azores and a fifth place in La Torche confirmed the 17 year-old remains the strongest European junior at the moment as she now sets her sights on the bigger stage.
"This being my third title it's a familiar sensation but it always feels just as good," Gonzalez Etxabarri admitted. "I feel like I've competed enough on this tour and I'm ready to shift my focus to the QS and Challenger full time now with the ultimate goal down the line to qualify for the CT one day."
Annette Gonzalez Etxabarri placed third in the Azores Pro Junior and Sarah Leiceaga took home fourth place, another major result in a break-out season for the surfer from the French Basque Country. The pair have numerous seasons left on the junior tour and should deliver exciting battles in years to come.
With the completion of the Azores Pro Junior, the race to the European Junior title and qualification for the WSL Junior Championships have come to a close, here are the final rankings:
European Men's JQS Top 5:
1 - Bitor Garitaonandia (ESP) European Junior Champion & Qualified for WJC
2 - Noa Dupouy (FRA) Qualified for WJC
3 - Markel Vizcarguenaga (ESP)
4 - Keoni Lasa (EUK)
5 - Yago Dominguez (EUK)
5 - Kauli Vaast (FRA)
European Women's JQS Top 5:
1 - Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri (ESP) European Junior Champion & Qualified for WJC
2 - Aelan Vaast (FRA) Qualified for WJC
3 - Annette Gonzalez Etxabarri (EUK)
4 - Maelys Jouault (FRA)
5 - Sarah Leiceaga (FRA)
Some of the juniors competing today will hang around and take part in the upcoming Azores Pro QS3,000, which waiting period opens on Tuesday. For the four athletes qualified, the WSL Junior Championships will be staged in California in January 2023. As for the rest of the field, the 2023 European Junior Qualifying Series will likely start in the spring of next year.
The Azores Pro Junior will unfold from October 15-17, 2022 and the Azores Pro from October 18-23, 2022 at Praia de Santa Barbara, Sao Miguel - Azores Islands. For all results, photos, video highlights and press releases, log on to worldsurfleague.com.
The Azores Pro and Pro Junior are organized by DAAZ Eventos and Associacao Atlantic Action Sports, with the support of the following event partners:, Governo Regional dos Acores, Turismo dos Açores, Câmara Municipal da Ribeira Grande, WAYZOR rent a car , MEO amongst others.
AZORES PRO JUNIOR MEN'S FINAL RESULTS:
1 - Kauli Vaast (FRA) 13.40
2 - Adur Amatriain (EUK) 12.23
3 - Keoni Lasa (EUK) 6.57
4 - Bitor Garitaonandia (ESP) 4.93
AZORES PRO JUNIOR WOMEN'S FINAL RESULTS:
1 - Aelan Vaast (FRA) 14.33
2 - Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri (ESP) 9.40
3 - Annette Gonzalez Etxabarri (EUK) 9.33
4 - Sarah Leiceaga (FRA) 8.80