Hawaii surfers run deep at World Junior Championship

Oh so close.

It seemed like at least one of the titles would be snagged, but the World Junior Championship ended in victories for Australia’s Macy Callaghan on the women’s side and fellow Aussie Ethan Ewing on the men’s side.

It was a great finals day for the home nation as a pair of Australia’s elite junior surfers earned top honors at the Kiama beach break in New South Wales. Things looked very promising for Hawaii, with two competitors reaching the final four of both the men’s and women’s divisions.

Mahina Maeda almost cemented her legacy as one of the top junior wahine in recent memory as she reached the final heat. Maeda finished runner-up at this very event last year, so a one-spot improvement would have been an ideal way to put a period on her Junior career.

But Callaghan put the pressure on quickly, having Maeda combo’d in her first two waves and she never let her back in the mix. Maeda really only had one exceptional heat in the entire event, but she has become adept at surviving and advancing. It’s a skill that lends very well to her ultimate goal of reaching the Championship Tour. She’s well on her way and is a solid contender, if not an outright favorite to make the CT in 2018.

We knew at least one Hawaii surfer would make the women’s final as Maeda and Brisa Hennessy faced off in the semifinals. For Hennessy, the past six months have been a major boost to her profile. She had been considered a top young talent, but all of a sudden, her timeline seems to have sped up a bit. She’s not quite where Maeda is in the pecking order, but her performances at the ISA junior event for Team Hawaii, the Maui Pro on the CT and now at the World Junior Championship have made her an international name.

Zoe McDougall fell in the quarterfinals, eliminating Hawaii’s chance for three of the final four wahine. But she also became a stronger presence on the Junior circuit in 2016 and her ceiling is probably just as high as either Maeda’s or Hennessy’s.

On the men’s side, both Cody Young and Finn McGill made it to the semifinals of the draw, which was twice as large as the women’s field. Young was one of the most consistent surfers in the contest as he steadily progressed through the field of 36. He ultimately fell to Ewing in the semifinals, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Ewing is heading to the CT next season after a breakout 2016.

The men’s side is so much tougher to forecast because new names emerge every year. Young has a great style that can get him far in the Qualifying Series circuit, but it’s so difficult to reach that upper echelon. Hopefully he continues his current trajectory and keeps climbing in 2017.

For Finn McGill, the sky is truly the limit for his potential. He also reached the semifinals, but American Griffin Colapinto had a huge heat to knock him out at that stage. McGill has many years to hone his craft, but he has already begun making a name for himself. This result proves that he can do more than just shine in Hawaiian waters. Whether his future is full-time on the circuit, or more of a part-timer with free surf sessions all over the globe remains to be seen. Each is probably an option.

Everyone performed exceptionally well and represented Hawaii with pride. There’s no telling where they all go from here, but more headlines are very likely.

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

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