Hawaii's Kekoa Bacalso takes Billabong World Juniors, prepares to party
"We're gonna go HUUUGE!"
This was Kekoa "Tank" Bacalso's prediction of likely events on his return from North Narrabeen, Australia to Mililani, Oahu. And that was BEFORE he'd won the contest.
Now he's officially ASP world junior men's champ … well, they'll probably be going HUUUGER.
Kekoa, 20, used his roly-poly power carving style to hammer out a sturdy and cool-headed win over Tahiti's Michel Bourez, in a final marked by Kekoa's sharpness and Michel's exhaustion.
Both were undoubtedly the form surfers of the day, leaving more fancied opponents like Reunion's Jeremy Flores, Australia's Matt Wilkinson and defending junior champ Pablo Paulino struggling for scores in chunky overhead Narrabeen beachbreak surf.
It's a surprise win in more ways than one. Two weeks ago, Kekoa wasn't even in the Hawaiian team. Then a pull-out led to a phone call, and the Tank got on the line to his sponsor Rip Curl's Australian team manager, Garry Dunne. "He wanted to know if he should give it a try," Dunne told SURFING, chortling at the irony.
Kekoa called the win a "good stepping stone," and intends to run with it for the coming year, using the event winner's high seed on the World Qualifying Series to have a shot at the big time. "I won't be spending much time at home now," he told the crowd, "I think I'll have about two weeks now then I'll be gone for months … so we'll just have to party while we can."
Since the demise of the old-school original Pro Junior event in 2004, international junior surfing has struggled for a singular focus. There's such a forest of junior and sub-grommet events these days — Quiksilver's King of the Groms, Rip Curl's Gromsearch, Volcom's Starfish series, and so on – you battle to see through the trees.
In the past, surfers have been drawn to the Billabong not so much by single-issue prestige as by the WQS seeding opportunity that comes with a win, a visible practical rung on the pro ladder.
Yet in 2006, it felt as if the Billabong World Juniors took a step up. Maybe it was the ultra-professional event operation – with instant action replay screens and full webcast facilities, it's light-years ahead of the old Pro Junior. For sure partly it was the addition of a first ever girls' world pro junior event, which gained almost as much PR time as the boys in girl-surf-friendly Sydney.
Girls champ Jessi Miley-Dyer is an intelligent, articulate person who nevertheless was a bit dumbstruck by the idea of being awarded her prize at the ASP Awards Banquet in February, next to Kelly Slater and Chelsea Georgeson. "On stage with Kelly Slater? I won't know what to say," she muttered.
But his fuel rods were spent after a destructive display of ripping in his semi-final heat, and against Kekoa, Michel hardly made a wave.
Other strong performances came from semi-finalists Hank Gaskell and Jean da Silva, New Zealand's Bobby Hansen, and Spain's Aritz Aranburu. For California, Alex Gray put on an elegant and fast-moving display to reach the quarterfinals, where he fell to Bourez.
COMPLETE ROUND 4 RESULTS:Heat 1: Hank Gaskell def. TJ Barron
Heat 2: Aritz Aranburu def. Granger Larsen
Heat 3: Kekoa Bacalso def. Dion Agius
Heat 4: Damien Fahrenfort def. Pablo Paulino
Heat 5: Alex Gray def. Dustin Cuizon
Heat 6: Michel Bourez def. Matt Wilkinson
Heat 7: Bobby Hansen def. Brian Toth
Heat 8: Jean da Silva def. Jeremy Flores
COMPLETE QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:QF 1: Hank Gaskell def. Aritz Aranburu
QF 2: Kekoa Bacalso def. Damien Fahrenfort
QF 3: Michel Bourez def. Alex Gray
QF 4: Jean da Silva def. Bobby Hansen
COMPLETE SEMIFINAL RESULTS:SF 1: Kekoa Bacalso def. Hank Gaskell
SF 2: Michel Bourez def. Jean da Silva
2006 BILLABONG JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIPS FINAL:Kekoa Bacalso def. Michel Bourez