Australia's Julian Wilson and Owen Wright, along with France's Pauline Ado, are the new world champions after victories at the Quiksilver ISA World Junior Surfing Championships at Maresias Beach, Brazil, today. Australia also claimed the overall World Junior Champion Team title.
The finals of the Under 18 and 16 Boys, and Under 18 Girls, were all hotly contested in powerful five to six foot (1.5 – 2 metre) waves, the best surf of the eight-day competition.
The Under 18 Boys final was an incredible battle with Wilson (Coolum, Qld) getting off to an early lead before being pursued by South Africa's top gun, Jordy Smith, of Durban.
With a massive crowd on the beach roaring encouragement, the pair exchanged huge floaters and re-entries, with Smith fighting back with a big aerial reverse manoeuvre that scored 8.33 (out of 10) to narrow the gap.
But Wilson held off the challenge to win by 17.67– 16.90 points, with fellow Australian Caleb Reid-Boquist (Bronte, NSW) in third (14.50) and France's Jeremy Flores fourth (13.87).
"Being the world champion is the best feeling I've ever had in my whole life," Wilson, 17, said. "I am so happy. I've come second once before, and the feeling was good, but coming first is so much better. The waves really turned on for the final and it was so intense out in the water. My tactics were to get two good scores early and put a bit of pressure on. Then Jordy came back at me and it was just wave for wave."
No one on the beach could believe the level of surfing reached by the four Under 18 finalists.
"The talent in the final was incredible, they're the best surfers in the world, and coming to the world titles you don't expect anything less," Wilson said.
Wilson credited the Australian team as a whole. "We've got a strong Australian team here and everyone has helped each other out as we're good friends."
He was also surprised by the excellent surf throughout the event: "Coming to Brazil, I bought my small boards and didn't expect the good waves that we got. I've been gob-smacked by the waves, they've been amazing," he said.
Owen Wright (Culburra, NSW) also started fast in the Under 16 Boys final, locking in some brilliant early rides to have his opponents needing a combination of scores to catch him. Wright hit peak form in the final and he easily won with 16.20 points, ahead of Brazil's Alejo Muniz (11.64), South Africa's Shaun Joubert (10.80) and France's Marc Lacomare (8.20).
"All my buddies here were cheering me on and that got me fired up for the final and I'm stoked to come out on top," Wright, 16, said. "I hadn't put together a brilliant heat all week so I thought to myself: 'I may as well do it now.' I got a good early score and then just tried to keep building on it.
"The standard has been so good here that I was sweating and I didn't get much sleep last night but it paid off. There's been so much support from the Australian team here that it makes you want to go twice as hard," he said.
The Under 18 Girls final came down to the wire, with Pauline Ado (Hendaye, France) scoring an 8.93 (out of 10) in the last minute to take the lead from Australian Sally Fitzgibbons (Gerroa, NSW). Ado narrowly won by 15.50 points – Fitzgibbons' 15.06, with Brazil's Diana Souza third on 9.50 and New Zealand's Airini Mason fourth on 7.33.
Ado, 15, said she had seen Fitzgibbons surf in Australia and knew that she was in for a tough final. "I can't believe that I am the world champion," Ado said. "I didn't get very good waves at the beginning but when I finished my last ride, I hoped that I had the score I needed – and I did. I am so happy to be the world champion and it's my ambition to be a professional surfer."
Ado's victory helped France record their best finish ever at this event, a runner-up placing to Australia, and ahead of Brazil, Hawaii, South Africa and USA.
The final of the ISA Cup was contested by the top teams today and the South African team (Shaun Joubert, Jordy Smith, Kyle Lane, Rudy Palmbloom and Nikita Robb) won with 65.52 points, ahead of Australia (55.04), New Zealand (38.76) and France (32.10).
On total pointscore, Australia had a clear win on 6,292 points to claim the ISA World Junior Champion Team title, with France second (5,029), Brazil third (4,688), Hawaii fourth (4,626), South Africa fifth (4,560) and USA sixth (3,948). All winners and top placegetters were awarded medals.
Australia finished fourth overall in Huntington Beach, California, last year, after winning every title in Tahiti in 2004, and Australia's head coach, Sasha Stocker, said this year's results were a big turnaround for the team. "Last year we saw a major increase in the standard of surfing at this competition and our Team Australia programs were influenced by that," Stocker said. "All credit must go to the Australian Sports Commission for their support of Australian surfing and to our athletes, who are an amazing group of talented young surfers."
A local Brazilian surfer, Alcino Neto – better know at Pirata (the pirate) – performed an exhibition today of adaptive surfing. Neto, 36, lost a leg as a teenager when hit by a drunken driver while riding his motorcycle. Despite the setback, Neto still manages to stand on his surfboard and enjoy the sport he took up as an eight-year-old.
"The accident has never stopped me," he said. "I encourage all disabled people to try surfing. Here in Brazil I run surf schools using special equipment."
The ISA President, Fernando Aguerre, said: "What an event! The best junior surfers from every surfing nation, great waves every day, the festive Brazilian spirit that we all love … diverse cultures, races and religions sharing the beach and waves, and competing just for honor and medals. Congratulations to all medallists."
This year 27 countries and 251 athletes competed in the event. The final placings (in order of finishing) were: Australia, France, Brazil, Hawaii, South Africa, USA, New Zealand, Venezuela, Tahiti, Portugal, Peru, Japan, Ecuador, United Kingdom, Chile, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Spain, Barbados, Italy, Uruguay, Jamaica, Canada, Germany, Dominican Republic, Sweden and Guatemala.
The next Quiksilver ISA World Junior Surfing Championships will be held in Portugal in May 2007.