The final event of the World Surf League North America Junior Tour, the Soup Bowl Pro Junior, event is set to begin tomorrow morning with regional titles in the balance after a lay day today. An opportunity to qualify for the World Junior Championships is on the line for both the men and women upon the shores of Bathsheba, Barbados with two slots up for grabs on the menâ€™s side — while only one remains for the women. This year will also witness two new champions as all previous winners have aged out of the Junior Tour.
The Top 4 men earn a direct ticket to the WJC, along with the Top 2 women, and the beautiful righthand reefbreak will play host to theÂ deciding factor once more.Â Nolan Rapoza (USA)Â andÂ Kei Kobayashi (USA)Â have clinched their respective places, while onlyÂ Alyssa Spencer (USA)Â has secured a spot. Rapoza is comingÂ in with a guaranteed Top 2 finish for the year, though his focus is still razor sharp as the top seeded surfer.
â€œIt feels great [to qualify for Worlds], but it does not make me any less hungry for another win,â€ Rapoza said. â€œEvery heat I go into I have my blinders on and want to get in my zone. I don’t want to make any mistakes and being smart in all my heats is my main focus. I am trying to mature as a surfer and I think Soup Bowl is a perfect wave to display that.â€
Kobayashi remains the only competitor with a chance to overtake Rapoza for the North America Junior title. Just below Kobayashi,Â Jake Marshall (USA)Â andÂ Griffin Colapinto (USA)Â currently occupy the last two spots into the WJC — but are vulnerable to falling out. Though Marshall’s experience in pumping Soup Bowls will only help his cause.
“I’m not sure what it’s going to take exactly [in terms of numbers] but I’m just going to try and do the best I can and hopefully it works out,” Marshall said. “I’m really excited to go back to Soup BowlÂ because it is one of my favorite places in the world.Â I’d love to finish off with a win mostly because it would for sure qualify me for Worlds. I’ve also come close twice this year so to finally get aÂ win would be great.”
The Californian currently sits at No. 3 and only one scenario sees him out of the Top 4 — if he doesn’t better his lowest result of Equal 17th and bothÂ Tyler Gunter (USA)Â andÂ Cole Houshmand (USA)Â earn Equal 5th placings.
After a massiveÂ Junior Tour win in the last event,Â GunterÂ sits just 70 points behind an event absentee Colapinto and has a great opportunity to pass him in the rankings.
â€œI’m still so stoked on how the [RVCA Pro Junior]Â went, it’s given me so much motivation to get over to Barbados and try my best to do it again and make it to worlds,â€ Gunter said. â€œSince the start of the year I knew it would come down to Barbados. I’ve been practicing on my back hand a lot and just trying to be in the best shape that I can be for this last event. I’m really looking forward to getting to Barbados and enjoying paradise with perfect waves.â€
Cole Houshmand (USA)Â will be Gunterâ€™s biggest threat sitting just behind him in the rankings, but will have to better himÂ by at least two placings in order to earn a spot of his own.
Leilani McGonagle (CRI)Â headsÂ into the Soup Bowl Pro Junior women’s event asÂ the onlyÂ competitor who can threaten Spencerâ€™s title hopes and claim it for her own. Sitting firmly at No. 2, the Costa Ricanâ€™s WJC qualification fate is ultimately in her own hands — needing to at least make the Final to dispatch all but three of the contenders. But, with multiple appearances at Soup Bowl, itâ€™s an opportunity McGonagle relishes.
â€œI really want to qualify this year for worlds since Iâ€™ve never been to Australia, so that would be really cool,â€ McGonagle said. â€œI have to do well to solidify my spot and we all know that isnâ€™t easy to do with all the girlsÂ ripping. Iâ€™m trying not to think about it too much and just focus on making heats, but if the opportunity presents itself and I qualify — it would be sick. I think if I surf smart and get the best wavesÂ I could find myself in a Final.â€
Maddie PetersonÂ (USA)Â is presented with the best scenario to overtake McGonagle after earning one Finals appearance earlier this year.Â The New Jersey-nativeÂ needs to replicate her third-place performance from last year’s Soup Bowl Pro JuniorÂ result for a chance at the No. 2 spot.
â€œThis year I didn’t do the full QS and made it a priority to do well in my last year of Juniors, so being in that thirdÂ spot is definitely getting me ready to bring all I haveÂ to Soup Bowl,â€ Peterson said. â€œThis is my fourthÂ time coming to Barbados and so I feel pretty comfortable. I think positioning and picking the right waves is something I’m focusing on going into the contest. It’s really cool to reflect on each year and see how I’ve learned something new every time.â€
Tomorrowâ€™s 7:30 a.m. Call will determine a possible 8:00Â a.m. Start for men’s Round 1 to kick off the 2016 Soup Bowl Pro Junior with women’s Round 1 on standby. Go toÂ www.worldsurfleague.com, or download theÂ WSL App, to see live scoring and daily updates from the events.
Upcoming Soup Bowl Pro Junior Menâ€™s Round 1 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Kael Farber (USA), Dylan Hord (USA), Kyle Tester (USA), Dean Hill (USA)
Heat 2: Shane Kertesz (USA), Italo Mesinas (USA), Simon Hetrick (USA), Gunner Day (USA)
Heat 3: Jack Hendee (USA), Evan Brownell (USA), Dean Vandewalle (BEL), Elton John (TTO)
Heat 4: Robbie Goodwin (USA), Ryan Huckabee (USA), Taro Watanabe (USA), Jylell Lewis (TTO)
Upcoming Soup Bowl Pro Junior Womenâ€™s Round 1 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Giselle Allan (BRB), Sophie Falzone (USA), Coral Wiggins (CRI)
Heat 2: Bethany Zelasko (USA), Molly Kirk (USA), Charlotte Lange (USA)
Heat 3: Storm Portman (USA), Alexa Muss (USA), Alyssa Spencer (USA)
Heat 4: Gabrielle Gittens (USA), Avery Aydelotte (USA), Emily Gossarth (USA)