Kai Barger of Maui, Hawaii, is the new junior world champ, and if you haven't heard a lot of Kai yet, don't be surprised.
Former junior star, now event assistant Brenden Margieson gazed up at the event draw display in amazement. "I don't know half the people on that board," he said. "There's soooo many good surfers now, hey?"
No kidding. If one thing was clear after the Billabong World Juniors at North Narrabeen, Sydney, Australia yesterday, it was this: Reputations mean bugger-all in Gromworld.
Once upon a time, junior pro surfing was pretty much all about Aussies, with a few Hawaiians and mainland US kids thrown in. But the surfing world has changed – or rather, it's expanded. Junior surfing seems like it's in flux. Nobody dominates. No nation has a lock on the sport's future.
Generations of French are producing. Where the HELL are the French superkids coming from? They fell out of the sky at this event. Pauline Ado, winner of the chicks, is the first French world pro champ, and by the number of fellow countrygroms who'll be lurking about Australia chasing the junior pro tour for the next month or so, she won't be the last. Stephen "Belly" Bell, surfboard maker and Euro talent spotter, says he knows of an 11-year-old in Rome, Italy, who's got a pro future. Eleven! From Rome! "That center of gravity, ya know? It doesn't matter where they're from if they've got that," he told Surfing.
Young star Marc Lacomare, who'd blazed into third place over the likes of Dusty Payne and Owen Wright, came up, all shy smiles. "You want a manager?" teased John Shimooka. "I only take 10 per cent!"
The Brazilians are overwhelming. Jadson Andre (who???) scored the only 10 of the day to ace out Tanner Gudauskas in the semis. On the way out of the water, he ran past Narra local Nathan Hedge: "I looove your place," he grinned at Hedgey. Here was another exceptional Brazilian junior in the Pablo Paulino mold. His rapid-fire style suited the loping Narrabeen lefts to a T – or at least to an air reverse, easily the most popular move of the event. In Gromworld, the air reverse is the new foam bounce.
By contrast, Australian Julian Wilson, by far the star of the show talent-wise, peaked early and waited too long for a wave against the bullish Tahitian, Tamaroa McComb.
Tamaroa is as close to a dominant competitive force as junior surfing gets. Lively, flamboyant and sharp, he carries himself like a gunslinger and is backed up by his big islander family, who gathered on the Narrabeen dune ready to cheer on a winner, but had to live with a fifth. Tamaroa is an exciting surfer as well as a winner, he clearly has the talent for the WCT. But he showed a bit of overconfidence at this event; maybe he's surfed too many easy heats against lesser opponents in the past 12 months.
Tanner Gudauskas claimed the McComb scalp. Tanner is a very sturdy powerful surfer who surfs intelligent heats. Dad Tom and Mom Nancy came down under to spend a couple weeks watching their lil' goofyfoot. "We're just gonna hang out for a few days after this," said the patriarch of the G clan. "Be tourist Seppos, ya know?"
Meanwhile Matt Wilkinson was the last Aussie left, and all the ones who'd been knocked out – Jayke Sharpe, Julian, Owen Wright, Laura Enever and a bunch of mates – gathered to cheer him on against Kai Barger. Australians have issues with this contest; it's on their home ground, and they haven't won it in forever. But Kai was a revelation. Riding what looked like his perfect surfboard, a curvy Tokoro, he just blew up. He's a very strong, tail-rail oriented surfer who keeps the weight on that rail a fraction longer than most of his peers, and he timed his big rides to perfection throughout the day.
In the final Kai got off a bit slowly against Jadson, who surfed like a wind-up toy. But then the Hawaiian found a wave worth his weighted rail, and blew past into the lead. "What're we doing tonight??" he yelled at his buddies. Whatever ya want, we'd imagine.
It was a day for the grommets, pro or not. While ancient former juniors like Luke Egan and Tom Carroll hung out in the VIP area, watching the final and discussing the relative merits of Stand Up Paddle technique, a bunch of cheeky Narrabeen groms sneaked out onto the right side of the peak, right next to their heroes. By the end of the final there had to be 20 of 'em out there. And nobody said a word.
1 Kai Barger (HI)
2 Jadson Andre (BR)
=3 Tanner Gudauskas (CA) & Marc Lacomare (FRA)
=5 Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Maxime Huscenot (REUNION), Tamaro McComb (TAH), & Kiron Jabour (HI)