World Junior Champs

Why surfing at the Pro Junior level is more relevant than ever

The new ASP World Junior Champion, Caio Ibelli. Photo: ASP/Kirstin

Wade Carmichael and Nathan Carvalho just finished in first and second at Burleigh Heads, Australia in the ASP World Junior Championships. But you haven't heard of them, have you?

That's OK.

The reason the Pro Junior series came to be was to give talented kids valuable World Tour level event experience and exposure. You know who Wade Carmichael and Nathan Carvalho are now, don't you? They finished in the top slots in the biggest event of the year at the Pro Junior level.

Pro Junior events are made up of the best 20-and-under surfers from every corner of the globe. While I'm sure most World Junior Championship competitors have visited one of Australia's fine bottle shops this arvo, none of these incredible surfers are even old enough to buy beer in the States. Not every kid is ready to win at the World Tour level, but Gabriel Medina did just that at age 17. Or win five Men's Star events as 17-year-old Kolohe Andino accomplished in 2011. While still only 19, John Florence has had a string of performances--both freesurfing and competitive--that place him right up there with Kelly, AI, and Dorian for his skill in all conditions. To say Pro Junior-aged surfers will be taking over the surfing world in the future is a given. Saying Pro Junior aged surfers are changing our expectations of how a wave can be surfed in competition would be pointing out the obvious. And to miss out on 14-year-old phenom Jack Robinson, in these infancy of his inevitable life spent in the spotlight, is dropping the ball with a chance to see what the top one percent of the top one percent is capable of.

Think about it for a second.

Wouldn't you love to go back and watch a young Tom Curren win at the 1984 Stubbies Pro on the same pointbreak venue of this week's World Junior Championship? Or a pre-"Ke11y" win from Slater at Lowers during the 1990 Body Glove Surfbout? Both surfers would have been in the Pro Junior age group at the time. Both surfers went on to change the way we surfed. But there was no webcast then, and now there is. Now there is no excuse for missing a glimpse into the future, and history in the making that we'll remember 20 to 30 years from now, just as we remember Tom Curren and Kelly Slater's early wins.

This year's timepiece will be the brilliant surf-off between two surfers who tied for the World Junior Title: Garrett Parkes and Caio Ibelli. After losing out early in the World Junior Championship and finishing second overall the last two years in the Title rankings, this was Caio's last opportunity to finish the year on top. When the horn sounded at the end of a close-fought surf-off, Caio had won, keeping 2011's streak of Brazilian competitive victories going strong into the start of 2012. After watching this event and others throughout 2011, Caio is very deserving of receiving the World Junior Title with his polished approach that has steadily improved over the last few years.

We have seen the return of common sense within the ASP (except the top 32 format still needs to return to 44 surfers) with the undoing of the changes that had created the most adverse qualifying environment young surfers had ever faced. That's in the past now, leaving Caio and a plethora of talented young surfers with a realistic shot at the 10 spots on World Tour reserved for the highest seeds from qualifying Prime and Star events.