Team Hawaii set to stoke ISA Junior fire in Azores

The stars of tomorrow have again gathered on European shores for one of the year’s best surfing events.

Team Hawaii is one of 39 nations competing and embracing the unified spirit at the 2017 ISA World Junior Surfing Championships.

Each year the ISA Junior event becomes a worldwide gathering with an Olympic spirit to it, opening with a March of Nations through the local roadways. Always dubbed the “Ambassadors of Aloha,” Team Hawaii is a perennial favorite and usually earns a place on the podium. But it really is more about the event itself, and the young surfers having an opportunity to perform.

Six and seven years ago, there was a huge Kauai presence on the team. That has diminished more recently, to the point where no Garden Isle surfers are at this year’s contest in Azores, Portugal. But there is still a lot of veteran experience on Team Hawaii.

Mahina Maeda will be the most decorated woman — not only on just her team, but probably within the entire field of competitors. Maeda has been one of the world’s best juniors, as well as tearing up the Qualifying Series. Her prominence has already earned her wild card appearance consideration on the Championship Tour. Combining that with her multiple gold medals at the ISA Juniors places Maeda with a clear target on her jersey. She’ll be the one to beat every time she paddles out.

The girls contingent will also feature Brisa Hennessy, Summer Macedo and Zoe McDougal. All have been around the QS scene recently and all will certainly be relied upon to pick up some points toward the team total. Maeda and Hennessy headline the Under 18 division, with Macedo and McDougal in the Under 16 division.

As for the boys, there is definitely plenty of firepower coming back, though it does feel strange not having a single Moniz on the roster. Some of the newer faces will have to pick up that slack formerly provided by that reliable name.

The prestige of the Under 18 Boys division will be chased by Kaulana Apo, Noa Mizuno, Koa Yakota and Cody Young. Mizuno has the best ISA result of the crew, previously earning a fifth-place finish. Young has also made a name for himself with an NSSA Explorer Junior national title. But with this four-man heat format, any is capable and any is vulnerable.

For the Under 16 Boys, Barron Mamiya is the veteran rejoining the team, along with Finn McGill, Logan Bediamol and Wyatt McHale. Mamiya also has a fifth-place result in his previous ISA experience.

It’s a team that has a huge ceiling, but the rest of the world has also continued to progress. The girls are very likely to earn their squad some serious points, but the boys will need to do their part for the team to return to the podium on finals day. Their efforts will be coordinated by longtime coaches Rainos Hayes, Jason Shibata and Kekoa Bacalso.

The Ambassadors of Aloha will be doing all they can to continue making this a warm and rewarding event for all involved, hopefully also packing some hardware in the overhead compartments on their flight home.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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