Without a cloud in the sky, and the wind blowing offshore since sunrise, the first heat of the DAKINE ISA World Junior Surfing Championship Presented by Billabong took to the water, putting months of anticipation to rest.
The size of the ISA World Juniors requires two contest areas until the final days of competition, allowing for concurrent heats – resulting in non-stop action up and down the beach. Today’s schedule was devoted entirely to the boys, with 48 Qualifying Round 1 heats running in both the Under-18s and Under-16s.
With a new swell just beginning to show and the tide filling in throughout the day, conditions were tricky for the beginning of the event. Patience was essential, and when a corner could be found or a set arrived, taking advantage of those opportunities was critical. One bogged rail or failing to land an air to complete a ride was the difference between advancing or dropping into the Repechage.
In ISA competition, events run with four-person heats and a double-elimination format, which the organization has used for the past 20 years. If a surfer finishes in the top two positions of a Qualifying Round, they stay in the Qualifying Round. If the surfer finishes in the bottom two of the round, he or she drops into the Repechage. A third or fourth position finish in the Repechage, results in elimination from the competition.
A pair of the best surfers to watch in the Boys Under-18 division competed in early, back-to-back heats, with similar results. USA’s Trevor Thornton took early control of his heat and cruised to a comfortable win, with a two-wave score of 14.00. The regular-footer seemed to be on every good left-hand wave of the heat throwing powerful, fins-free snaps and even completing a 360-degree rotation on a closing turn. Thornton didn’t know until yesterday whether or not he’d be competing in Panama.
“[Team USA] has been running heats the past couple days [at Playa Venao] to finalize the team, so that was the most nervous part [of the event so far],” Thornton said. “Panama is great. The waves are fun, the weather is good, and you look everywhere and there’s mountain and scenery. It’s really cool.”
After Thornton’s heat, Hawaii’s Koa Smith took to the water. Groomed on world-class Hawaiian waves, Smith was calm and composed despite the fickle conditions and a closer-than-expected heat. His score of 10.77 narrowly held off Japan’s Natsuki Sasako, who finished second with a 10.03.
“The conditions are super challenging; every once in a while there’s a corner, but there’s not just one peak, the line-up is constantly changing, the tide moves so fast, so you’re over here, you’re over here, you go to the left, you go to the right, you’re kind of all over,” Smith said. “But I’ve done enough ISA events to know what to expect; you can’t get too rattled or lose focus because you never know with some of these countries which kids are just going to pull something big and turn a heat.”
While the nature of ISA events offers unique challenges, it also presents components of competition that are lost in professional surfing.
“Usually at contests you’re just alone in your head, isolated, thinking strategy and equipment,” he said. “You still do that a bit here, but then you’ve also got the team cheering you on, you’ve got the coaches helping you out, it’s a completely different world.”
With the challenging conditions that Smith described, the day did result in several upsets, including heat wins by Barbados’ Caelum Blandford over South Africa’s Slade Prestwich and Puerto Rico’s Bryan Laide Roca over USA’s Colin Moran.
Imanol Yeregui (ESP), Tommy Boucaut (FRA), Kaoli Kahokuloa (HAW), Luke Dillon (GBR), Michael Rodrigues (BRA), Michael Venter (RSA) and Cooper Chapman (AUS), who scored the highest combined score of the day (15.56), were other standouts in the Boys Under-18 division.
In Boys Under-16 competition, France’s Nelson Cloarec put on the display of the day, finding a pair of long waves, which provided ample room to perform several big turns. With the high-tide conditions, some of the punch of previous days was lacking, making aerials difficult to complete, and meaning power turns were the best approach to get the scores to advance.
“It’s actually really fun, the waves are really good when they come, and there are a lot of sets, so it’s good for everyone,” Cloarec said. “Our team prepared to be the best in the water, and in the process we became really close and good friends. I think we should do very well.”
Other standouts in the Under-16s were Jake Marshall (USA), Lucca Saldivar (PER), Takumi Nakamura (JPN), Elliot Paerata-Reid (NZL), Kalani David (HAW), Sasha Donnanno (MEX), O’Neill Massin (TAH), Jackson Obando (NIC) and Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA).
The surfing action continues tomorrow morning, April 16, in what should be improving conditions. Heats will resume with the completion of Qualify Round 1 for both Boys divisions.
According to Surfline, the Official Forecaster of the event, waves should be increasing in size for the next couple days, capping out in the six- to seven-foot range.
The event webcast will be live beginning at 8:00am local time (6:00am PST; 2:00pm in London) at www.dakineisawjsc.com/live.
Photo: Former ISA Copper Medalist, Miguel Tudela (PER) maximized his sharp backside surfing to claim the heat win and come to the beach with a smile on his face. Photo: ISA/Rommel González