Australian surf stars Owen Wright (Culburra) and Laura Enever (Narrabeen) have trumped a class field of international challengers to claim victories at the Billabong Pro Junior Series in Taranaki, New Zealand.
An increase in swell overnight created fun 1.0-1.5m right handers on the final day of play, with the long walls of Stent Road creating an ideal setting for some of the best junior surfing New Zealand has ever seen.
Wright, 18, broke through for his maiden Pro Junior win by narrowly defeating current ASP Australasian Junior Series ratings leader Stuart Kennedy (Lennox Head) in the man-on-man final.
It was a close exchange between the two inform Aussies, with the lead swapping a number of times in the 30-minute final. Despite Kennedy ranked strong favourite to take the win following a blistering 18.10 heat score in the semis, it was the classy backside surfing of the U/18 amateur world champion Wright who set the pace on the scoreboard, going into the lead at the halfway point with the heat’s top wave score of 7.75.
His fast surfing opponent had two opportunities to find the 6.76 score required to snatch victory towards the dying stages but fell short on both occasions with a 6.50 and a 5.80. The final scores had Wright 13.85 to Kennedy 13.60 out of 20.00
“I really wanted this win because I have had some bad results this year,” said Wright. “I’ve finally worked it out after a number of runner up spots on the junior series.
“I got a couple of good waves through the middle and I know Stu needed one towards the end, but I’m just over the moon that I held onto it.”
Wright dedicated the win to his long time board shaper and personal mentor Laurie Byrne who is currently in hospital fighting cancer.
“Laurie has been a real mentor to me, he is up in the hospital right now and I am sure he will be stoked to see me win this.
“I went and saw him before I came over and he said bring the trophy home, which is what I have done, so this win goes to him.”
Despite finishing the final in second, Kennedy retained the ASP Ratings lead and continues his stranglehold on the 2008 series. Remarkably, from five events, his worst result is a Quarter Final equal 5th.
Kiwi surfer Richard Christie (Gisborne) equalled his best ever Pro Junior series result with an equal third after going down to Wright in the Semi. The solid natural footer from Gisborne also showed his variety of tricks by winning the Panasonic Expression Session for a huge frontside air-reverse.
“There are so many good guys coming from Australia, it is just a breeding ground of pro surfers,” said Christie. “It is another level compared to surfing in New Zealand.
“There are junior’s here who are just as good as the international guys, but probably just not as committed so for us to see them here and try do the same thing is really important.”
Coffs Harbour local Madison Williams also set a personal best in the Australasian Series by placing e qual third. After ousting fellow Coffs surfer Jayke Sharp in the Quarter’s, Williams came up against a white hot Kennedy in the Semi and lost out to the highest single heat total of the event.
For Sydney surfer Enever, the win came virtuoso of a class performance in the girls division by defeating former Taranaki local and Kiwi hotshot Airini Mason.
It was the fourth career Pro Junior event win for the 16-year-old and her first of the 2008 series. The win was even more of a bonus after ratings leader Sally Fitzgibbons (Gerroa) opted to skip the New Zealand event.
“I haven’t been going too well this year so this is a good result for me,” said Enever. “The waves were really fun earlier in the day, but it was a bit slow for the final.
“All the girls have been ripping over the past few days and coming away with the win will hopefully be the start of my year.”
“Airini is kind of an ex local so I was following her around in the end because she could have picked up that score and beat me.”
Mason, who now lives in Australia but is formally of Taranaki and Gisborne couldn’t continue the run of high scores that saw her dominate early rounds.
“I couldn’t find my rhythm at the start of that heat and I think it played a huge part in not taking the win,” she said. “I was really confident going into this event because I have lived here before and it still feels a bit like home for me.
“I knew it was going to be a hard final, she is a tough competitor who surfs good in big and small waves.”
The Billabong Pro Junior Series in New Zealand is supported by Panasonic, Coke, Von Zipper, Kustom and Surfing New Zealand. Billabong would also like to thank the local community of Taranaki and the local boardriders club for their help and support of the event.