Gale Force Winds Wreak Havoc at Billabong Pro Junior
Forty Knot winds and tiny waves have hampered competitors on day one of the prestigious $13,000 Billabong Pro Junior series surfing event at Raglan, New Zealand. A North Easterly “Devil Wind" made riding Raglan’s normally epic point breaks impossible and organizers were forced to relocate 20-minutes south to Ruapuke Beach and hold the event in 0.5m waves.
The less than favorable conditions wreaked havoc on the local Kiwi contingent, with five of the top hopes bowing out in the first nine heats. Top ranked New Zealand surfer Richard Christie (Gisborne) became the first local through to the round of 48, placing second in his opening exchange behind Australian Carl Wright (Phillip Island).
A 7.25 score for his second wave put Christie in the lead for most of the 25-minute exchange before Wright took the top spot with an identical 7.25 nearing the siren. “The conditions are pretty hard," said Christie. “It’s not what we were really expecting or hoping for. “It’s super windy, you have to be careful not to get blown off the back of the waves out there."
Christie is the highest placed Kiwi on the Australasian Junior Series, currently rated a highly credible 16th overall. “Having the event here on home turf is a great opportunity for the Kiwi kids because we are used to the breaks," said Christie. “I guess we have an advantage, but it hasn’t showed today."
“The Australasian series is pretty hard and expensive to keep traveling over every time, but it’s all good fun," he said. “I’m pretty happy with how I have been going this year as well." Local 'hotshot' Morehu Roberts (Raglan) was literally blown out of the tournament in the opening round of 96 finishing in third behind Otis Carey (Coffs Harbour, Aus) and Jayke Sharpe (Coffs Harbour).
Other New Zealanders ousted in the first round included Ryan Hawker (Piha), Matt Hewitt (Mnt), Johnny Hicks (Gis), Luke Hughes (Raglan), Tim O’Connor (Mnt), Rangi Ormand (WGM), Sean Peggs (Tai) and Buck Woods (Gis). Raglan’s Kierin Van der Helder won through to the round of 48 late in the day.
ASP Australasian Junior Series leader Mitchell Coleborn (Maroochydore, QLD) cruised into the second round with a win over Mitch Noonan (Fingal Bay, NSW) Billy Keen (Sawtell, NSW) and young Kiwi hopeful Matt Hewitt (Mnt).
The powerful goofy footer leads the series by 515 points ahead of talented 18-year-old Heath Joske (Nambucca Heads, NSW) and with a recent string of results including back to back wins and an equal third, Coleborn could stream ahead of the field with a strong finish in New Zealand.
“With conditions that bad, I am just stoked to survive through that heat," said Coleborn. “Anything can happen when it’s like that, it doesn’t matter who the best surfer is, it all comes down to who catches the best waves." “If it doesn’t get any better in the next few days it is going to be a really tricky contest."
Wollongong’s Parish Byrne didn’t let the lack of surf dent his scoring potential, posting the single highest wave score of the day, a near perfect 9.00 to fly into round two. Byrne is sitting a career best 13th on the junior ratings and left Ty Watson (Currarong, NSW), Finn Barry (Apollo Bay, VIC) and John Cummings (Coolangatta, QLD) needing a combination of scores to match him in round one.
“I actually thought it was pretty fun out there," said Byrne. “I mean, it’s windy, but you just have to deal with it and concentrate on getting the scores. I definitely didn’t think I would be scoring a nine out there, but it was one of the bigger waves of the morning and it held up really nice. The wind wasn’t as strong on that wave for some reason and I got some nice turns in on clean face."
A stocky natural footer raised on the powerful Sandon Point in NSW, Byrne’s backside surfing has paid dividends over the last three events, resulting in a boost in ratings positions. “I actually started off really badly this year and was disappointed with that but I’ve picked it up a notch in the last few contests," he said. “My goal is top five obviously to get to the world junior titles, but I would be stoked with top ten."
Defending event champion and 7th ranked Laurie Towner (Angourie) was a shock elimination from the first round, going out in the dying seconds to Josh Johnson Baxter (Ocean Grove, VIC) and Caleb Reid (Bronte, NSW). 5th ranked Nick Riley (Fairlight, NSW) was another early casualty.
Top seeded Aussies through to the next round include Beau Atchison (3rd Copacabana, NSW), Jayke Sharp (4th Sandy Beach, NSW), Jay Davies (10th Yallingup, WA) Julian Wilson (8th Coolum, NSW) and Owen Wright (14th Culburra, NSW). The event was called off for the day after heat 17 of the round of 96 surfers.
When the $3,000 Billabong Pro Junior Girls division hits the water for round one, 2006 girls series champion Airini Mason, who originally hails from NZ but now lives in Tugun, Australia will start as one of the favourites. Other local girls in the field include Mischa Davis (Oratia), Paige Hareb (Taranaki), Wini Paul (Auckland), Jessica Santorinik (Raglan), Alexis Poulter (Rag), Laura Rishworth (Mnt) and Sharnae Van der Helder (Rag).
Billabong Pro Junior Series History: Developed in the early 1990’s as a platform for young surfers aiming to become professionals, the $75,000 Billabong Pro Junior Series is the country’s longest standing and richest domestic junior surfing circuit.
The five event series, open to aspiring male and female surfers aged 20-years and under, will comprise half of the overall ASP Australasian circuit, which culminates in the crowning of the ASP World Junior Champion at North Narrabeen each year.
For the first time in its history, the Billabong Pro Junior Series will this year stop at the new locations of Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast and Coffs Harbour on the NSW Mid North Coast.