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Dominant Debuts Unfold To Start SAMBAZON World Junior Championships Hosted by Best Western

The World Surf League (WSL) SAMBAZON World Junior Championships Hosted by Best Western opened with excellent, four-to-six-foot conditions to get competition underway.

Eli Hanneman (HAW) accrued the highest heat total of the men's Opening Round, earning a spot in the Round of 16.Credit: © WSL / Morris


The world’s best 20-and-under men and women made their Opening Round debuts and began their battles toward the 2022 World Junior Champion Titles.


Encinitas, California’s own Levi Slawson made his presence known in a dynamic debut, posting one of the day’s best scores of 7.33 (out of a possible 10). The 19-year-old’s aggressive backhand took over the showdown against Basque Country’s Adur Amatriain and France’s Noa Dupouy.


With the heat win, Slawson moves directly into Round 3, avoiding the dreaded Elimination Round.

“I learned to surf at this wave, and it was nice to know the lineup and not have to learn a new spot,“ said Slawson. “I’ve been traveling around the world on the Challenger Series, and it’s been a learning curve, but getting to be at home and surf a wave I know better than anywhere in the world is a privilege. I have a big support team here, and it means a lot to have them behind me.”


Both of Maui, Hawaii’s contenders debuted in strong form, with Jackson Bunch and Eli Hanneman each notching Opening Round heat wins. Hanneman’s backhand flair garnered a near-excellent 7.50 and 15.17 - both a men's Opening Round best. Bunch used his forehand attack to accrue a 13.63 heat total (out of a possible 20). “I just wanted to go out there and show what I could do," said Hanneman. “I’ve been working really hard, especially when it comes to contests, after being on the Challenger (Series) all year. I learned so much, it’s crazy. At first, it was a negative experience, and in the end, it turned out to be a lot of positives, so I’m hoping to show more of what I can do this year.”

Pictured:Oscar Berry (AUS) takes the heat win in the men's Opening Round, Heat 8.Credit: © WSL / Morris


Also making notable starts with brilliant wins, Kauli Vaast (FRA), Taro Watanabe (USA), Jarvis Earle (AUS), Cauã Costa (BRA), and Oscar Berry (AUS) head straight to Round 3. Berry had an incredible 2022 season culminating in a win at the Oakberry Gold Coast Pro Junior, an equal ninth-place finish on the Challenger Series at Snapper Rocks, and multiple Quarterfinal finishes on the Qualifying Series (QS). He now brings his powerful backhand to Seaside Reef in search of a World Junior Title. “It was hard, and the start was what I expected it to be,” said Berry. “I found those two waves back to back. I’ve been working with Petey from Surfing Australia to figure it out, and I’m stoked I got those first two waves to make it through. The forecast looks pretty big, so it’s going to be fun, I love a challenge. I’ve been working hard on my fitness, so I’m ready to go here.”


Women Stake Their Claim On Opening Day At Seaside Reef


North America’s No. 1 in both the Pro Junior and QS, Sawyer Lindblad (USA), debuted brilliantly, accruing a near-excellent 7.50 with her razor-sharp forehand.


The San Clemente, California competitor is on a competitive tear, finishing No. 1 on the North America Pro Junior rankings and currently sitting at No. 1 on the North America QS after another big year on the Challenger Series. This is Lindblad’s second chance at a World Junior Title and she’s ready for the task at hand.


“I didn’t want to get a mushy one, I was just looking to do two critical turns,” said Lindblad. “I went into the heat wanting to win so that I could skip the elimination round. But I really like this format. It reminds me of the CT, so it really helps get us prepared for that.”

Fellow Southern Californian and Encinitas’ own Alyssa Spencer also notched a commanding win at her home break as she looks to bring her hometown a World Junior Title.


Pictured: Francisca Veselko (PRT) dominated the final heat of the day and earned the highest single-score and heat total of the women's Opening Round. Credit: © WSL / Morris


Event wildcard Francisca Veselko (PRT) made her opportunity count and posted the highest single-score and heat total in women’s Opening Round of a 7.67 and 13.67. Veselko earned herself a wildcard through her Challenger Series rankings and showcased a dominant, backhand attack that put the event competitors on notice.


“Being here all day is tiring but I learned a lot before my heat,” said Veselko. “I feel like the waves got pretty big and I had a lot of time to see which waves were the best for the scores. It feels nice (to make it through), but I was talking with my coach and if I didn’t it would just be more time to get more practice.”


Pictured:Ellie Harrison (AUS) debuts in strong form, earning a spot in the Round of 16.Credit: © WSL / Morris


A clash of top-tier talents started the women’s Opening Round battles as Australia/Oceania No. 1 Ellie Harrison (AUS) took on 2018 World Junior Champion Kirra Pinkerton (USA) and South Africa’s Gemma Hanafey (RSA). After an early exchange, the Australian ran away with the heat and solidified herself into Round 3, sending Pinkerton and Hanafey to the Elimination Round.


“When we first got out there, a few big sets came through, so I wasn’t really sure where to sit, but then I just found a couple that gave me some sections, and it turned out well,” said Harrison. “I knew it was going to be a tough heat, especially with the big surf against Kirra (Pinkerton) because I’ve seen her in big waves, and she’s so good. I didn’t even look at my heat until last night because I knew every heat would be stacked.”


South America’s Sol Aguirre (PER) added her name to the list of regional No. 1’s finding success. Aguirre felt right at home in the cold lefthanders of Seaside Reef, and her combination of aggressive backhand maneuvers led to a solid 12.40 heat total despite tough conditions due to an incoming storm.


“It’s actually super tough out there, and I’m stoked to make that heat in those conditions,” said Aguirre. “(Competing on the CT) was an amazing opportunity. It was crazy to go from Indonesia to Brazil, but it was a great experience and to get a little taste of what my career could look like someday.”


Also prevailing in their debuts, Erin Brooks (HAW), Anon Matsuoka (JPN), Aelan Vaast (FRA), and Laura Raupp (BRA) avoid the Elimination Round and prepare for head-to-head battles.Pictured:


WSL would like to open this event by formally recognizing that Encinitas is the shared traditional and unceded homeland of the Payomkawichim (“py-om-ca-WEE-shum”) people, who are also known as Luiseño. The seven bands of Payomkawichim are Pechanga (“pa-CHONG-a”), Pauma, Pala, Rincon, San Luis Rey, La Jolla, and Soboba, located within today’s San Diego and Riverside counties. Payomkawichim people also acknowledge that prior to its name of Encinitas, the land was shared territory with the Kumeyaay. We thank them for their ongoing presence and participation in this event, and we would like to pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging.


The competition has been called OFF tomorrow due to rain and onshore wind. Event organizers will reconvene Wednesday, January 11, at 7:30 a.m. PST for a possible 8:00 a.m. PST start.


Men’s Opening Round Results:

Heat 1: Kauli Vaast (FRA) 11.60 DEF. Ryan Kainalo (BRA) 9.90, Tenshi Iwami (JPN) 7.40

Heat 2: Jackson Bunch (HAW) 13.63 DEF. Brodi Sale (HAW) 11.83, Saxon Reber (AUS) 9.83

Heat 3: Taro Watanabe (USA) 11.73 DEF. Tide-Lee Ireland (RSA) 8.00, Jett Schilling (USA) 6.77

Heat 4: Jarvis Earle (AUS) 10.73 DEF. Joel Vaughan (AUS) 8.03, Bitor Garitaonandia (EUK) 6.44

Heat 5: Levi Slawson (USA) 12.33 DEF. Adur Amatriain (EUK) 11.26, Noa Dupouy (FRA) 7.53

Heat 6: Eli Hanneman (HAW) 15.17 DEF. Alan Cleland (MEX) 11.30, Tommy Coleman (USA) 10.23

Heat 7: Cauã Costa (BRA) 12.20 DEF. Lennox Chell (AUS) 11.33, Kade Matson (USA) 7.53

Heat 8: Oscar Berry (AUS) 11.50 DEF. Luke Thompson (RSA) 11.16, Kian Martin (SWE) 11.16


Upcoming Men’s Elimination Round Matchups:

Heat 1: Joel Vaughan (AUS) vs. Saxon Reber (AUS)

Heat 2: Alan Cleland (MEX) vs. Lennox Chell (AUS)

Heat 3: Jett Schilling (USA) vs. Tenshi Iwami (JPN)

Heat 4: Kade Matson (USA) vs. Kian Martin (SWE)

Heat 5: Brodi Sale (HAW) vs. Noa Dupouy (FRA)

Heat 6: Luke Thompson (RSA) vs. Bitor Garitaonandia (EUK)

Heat 7: Adur Amatriain (EUK) vs. Tommy Coleman (USA)

Heat 8: Ryan Kainalo (BRA) vs. Tide-Lee Ireland (RSA)


Women’s Opening Round Results:

Heat 1: Ellie Harrison (AUS) 11.66 DEF. Kirra Pinkerton (USA) 7.37, Gemma Hanafey (RSA) 3.27

Heat 2: Sawyer Lindblad (USA) 13.33 DEF. Sierra Kerr (AUS) 9.16, Rubiana Brownell (CRC) 5.16

Heat 3: Alyssa Spencer (USA) 12.66 DEF. Puamakamae DeSoto (HAW) 9.57, Nanaho Tsuzuki (JPN) 9.46

Heat 4: Erin Brooks (CAN) 11.50 DEF. Luana Silva (BRA) 11.40, Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri (EUK) 11.04

Heat 5: Sol Aguirre (PER) 12.40 DEF. Anon Matsuoka (JPN) 9.43, Zahli Kelly (AUS) 8.93

Heat 6: Aelan Vaast (FRA) 12.50 DEF. Eweleiula Wong (HAW) 10.17, Daniella Rosas (PER) 10.17

Heat 7: Laura Raupp (BRA) 8.16 DEF. Rachel Presti (DEU) 6.86, Louise Lepront (RSA) 6.10

Heat 8: Francisca Veselko (PRT) 13.67 DEF. Ella McCaffray (USA) 10.43, Sara Wakita (JPN) 8.14


Upcoming Women’s Elimination Round Match Ups:

Heat 1: Luana Silva (BRA) vs. Nanaho Tsuzuki (JPN)

Heat 2: Rachel Presti (DEU) vs. Louise Lepront (RSA)

Heat 3: Kirra Pinkerton (USA) vs. Rubiana Brownell (CRC)

Heat 4: Sara Wakita (JPN) vs. Ella McCaffray (USA)

Heat 5: Zahli Kelly (AUS) vs. Gemma Hanafey (RSA)

Heat 6: Eweleiula Wong (HAW) vs. Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri (EUK)

Heat 7: Daniella Rosas (PER) vs. Anon Matsuoka (JPN)

Heat 8: Sierra Kerr (AUS) vs. Puamakamae DeSoto (HAW)


The SAMBAZON World Junior Championships Hosted by Best Western are proudly supported by Sambazon, Best Western, Sports San Diego, Board and Brew, Pura Vida, Sun Diego, and Red Bull.


Stay tuned to the World Surf League for more updates.



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