Team USA celebrates their second ISA Junior World Title in three years.
Image credit: / ISA / Ben Reed
Hyuga, Japan, October 1, 2017 - Propelled by six individual medals, including the Girls' U-16 Gold Medal from Alyssa Spencer, Team USA narrowly held off Team Hawaii to be crowned Team World Champion at the 2017 VISSLA ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in Hyuga, Japan. This is only Team USA's second Title in the history of the event, following their win in 2015.
Trailing USA by only 263 points, Team Hawaii earned the Silver Medal with five individual medals of their own, Japan with the Bronze, and Australia with the Copper.
The Bronze Medal for Team Japan comes on the back of their emerging performance in 2016 where they finished on the podium for the first time in history winning the Team Copper Medal. The Japanese delivered an exceptional, well-balanced performance, elevating their result in their home country.
In the Boys' Finals Team Japan and Argentina made history as Joh Azuchi (JPN, U-16) and Ignacio Gundesen (ARG, U-18) earned the first-ever Gold Medals for their respective nations in the event, displaying the development and growth of the sport in emerging Surfing countries around the world.
Hawaii's Brisa Hennessy entered an elite group of world-class surfers, earning her second ISA Junior World Champion Title, a feat that has also been accomplished by current WSL stars Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW), Tyler Wright (AUS), and Stephanie Gilmore (AUS).
ISA President, Fernando Aguerre, said:
"What an incredible week of competition. We have witnessed history here in Japan on many levels. We crowned the first ISA World Champions in Japan in 27 years and also saw new nations earn their first Gold Medals. The sport of Surfing is growing and advancing all around the world as it was fully on display at the 2017 VISSLA ISA World Junior Surfing Championship.
"I would like to thank all involved in the event, the organizers, the City of Hyuga, the prefecture of Miyazaki, the sponsors, and the title sponsor, Vissla, for supporting the future generation of surfers since 2014.
"We are looking into the future of Surfing. We certainly will see some of the athletes that competed this week in Japan among those representing their nations at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in three years."
Sunday morning at Okuragahama beach kicked off with classic, clean conditions featuring quality waves in the chest to head high range. The world's best junior surfers put it all on the line with World Titles at stake.
After four Repechage Finals the Grand Finals took place with a packed crowd attending to witness the crowning of the World Champions.
The U-16 Girls kicked off the Grand Finals in a duel between Hawaii and USA, a pivotal point in the race for the Team Gold. USA's Alyssa Spencer started off the heat with an excellent 9-point ride, and then capped it off with a near-perfect 9.87, earning her first Gold Medal in the event. Hawaii's Keala Tomoda-Bannert kept Hawaii close in the team rankings, earning the Silver medal. Samantha Sibley (USA) earned the Bronze and Gabriela Bryan (HAW) the Copper.
"This has been my dream since I started surfing," said Spencer. "I can't believe it's actually true. I'm speechless.
"I wanted the Gold so bad and getting that nine right off the bat boosted my confidence so much. After that I just needed another score to back it up.
"I would be so honored to represent the USA in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but I know it will take a lot of hard work because there are so many girls that rip."
The U-16 Boy's Grand Final followed, as the beach filled with thousands of spectators to root on the home-nation heroes Joh Azuchi and Keanu Chris Kamiyama. Azuchi's last wave of 8.6 was just enough to boost him into the lead ahead of USA's Taro Watanabe by a narrow margin of 0.16 points. The crowd erupted in cheers and stormed to the water's edge to greet Azuchi, their first-ever ISA Junior World Champion. USA's Watanabe earned the Silver, Japan's Kamiyama the Bronze, and Brazil's Lucas Vicente the Copper.
"I can't believe this happened," said Azuchi. "I am so stoked."
"I was able to win because there are so many people behind me, supporting me. Thanks to my team, I made it happen."
The Girls U-18 Grand Final was next, featuring two past ISA Junior World Champions Summer Macedo (2015) and Brisa Hennessy (HAW). Hennessy, the defending Gold Medalist, had a tough time finding waves at the beginning of the heat, but found her rhythm in the final minutes, earning two wave scores of 8.5 and 7.77. Hennessy jumped into first and earned the Gold, followed by Leilani McGonage (CRC) with the Silver, Summer Macedo (HAW) with the Bronze, and Kirra Pinkerton (USA) with the Copper.
"It was a crazy eight days," said Hennessy. "I am so happy and grateful. My team worked so hard this week.
"I am so proud to represent Hawaii and hold my flag up high.
"I would tell young girls that are aspiring professional surfers at home to enjoy it and have fun. The best surfers out there are the ones having fun and enjoying the sport."
The Boys U-18 Grand Final, the last of the day, would decide if USA or Hawaii would take home the Team Gold Medal. However, Argentina's Ignacio Gundesen had plans of his own and quickly jumped out to the lead which held through the end of the heat. Gundesen earned the first junior Gold Medal for Argentina, drawing tears of joy from his team that received him on the beach. USA's Noah Hill earned the Silver Medal ahead of Hawaii's Cody Young, assuring a Team Gold Medal for USA. Australia's Dylan Moffat came in fourth with the Copper.
"I am so happy to win this!" said Gundesen. "I am so proud that I've earned a top eight spot for my country to compete in the ISA Aloha Cup next year.
"I couldn't have done this without my team. This is for them. This is for Argentina."