ASP Junior standout Jack Freestone is one of the favorites to win in Narrabeen because of lethal tail throws like this. Photo: Ellis

The most talented congregation of junior surfers in the world have descended upon North Narrabeen, Australia, for the Billabong World Junior Championships set to take place later this week. Regarded as the pinnacle event in junior surfing, the contest has historically been a stepping stone for young surfers poised to break into the mainstream, with a list of past champions reading like a "best-of book" for current pros. Joel Parkinson, Kekoa Bacalso, and Jordy Smith are but a handful of surfers who have found solid footing on the World Tour on the heels of a Junior Championship victory.

With the event beginning on January 8, Australia's Jack Freestone has solidified himself as the man to beat going into the contest. Currently the front-runner in the ASP Junior Ratings, Freestone is coming off a monumental win in Bali where he trumped South African Dale Staples with a last-minute win in near-perfect conditions.

"The ASP World Junior Title is such an important stepping stone,” says Freestone. “To achieve what Joel [Parkinson] has done would be really, really special. When you look at the list of winners' names, every surfer has gone on to the World Tour and a solid career, and of course, I'd love to bring it home for the green 'n' gold."

Hawaii's Keanu Asing, a man with an ISA World Junior title to his name, is eyeing down a podium finish as well. As the top seed in the ASP Hawaiian Pro Junior rankings, Asing will have his work cut out for him when he dons a jersey later this week. With the proverbial bar being raised at nearly every junior event, expect to see a new brand of surfing emerge at Narrabeen.

"The performances across the board have been crazy this year," said Asing. "We've seen guys pulling new tricks, airs…just going crazy. Narrabeen is a good left and if it's firing, it could favor the goofyfooters. The Brazilians especially–they love it. We saw Jadson [Andre] doing the craziest aerials last year and guys like Miguel [Pupo] will be on fire. I think the field will be more evenly matched than what we saw in Bali. It will go down to the wire."