North America’s top junior talents took over Soup Bowl at the World Surf League (WSL) BTMI Live Like Zander Junior Pro presented by Diamonds International In Loving Memory of Zander Venezia.
In two-to-four foot swell, women’s Round of 24 and Quarterfinals ran in their entirety alongside the men’s round of 32. With top seeds making their respective debuts, the race for World Junior Championships qualification resumed and fireworks ensued.
Women’s Round of 24 and Quarterfinals kicked off the day before men’s Round of 32 finished the day’s proceedings as QS competition was called OFF for the day.
World Junior Championships runner-up, Levi Slawson (USA), unleashed the event’s highest single-scoring wave of the event so far with a near-perfect 9.60 (out of a possible 10) with his decimating forehand.
The 20-year-old was leveled after an early exit in the QS and just missing out on the Challenger Series qualification spot, but now Slawson puts his focus solely into a second Pro Junior win of 2023 after his victory in Pismo Beach.
Pictured: Levi Slawson's (USA) ability to connect major turns seamlessly earned him the event's highest single-wave score so far with a 9.60. Credit: © WSL / Nichols
“Yesterday was a big bummer for me, little heartbreak not making the Challenger Series, but it’s been a great year for me,” said Slawson. “I’ve grown a lot and this is my last event ever in the juniors so I’m just going to take it serious. I’m still here in Barbados at the beautiful place and just enjoy the rest of my time here, and hopefully win this junior event.”
Lucas Owston’s (USA) run through the QS also fell short, but his focus remains on the Live Like Zander Junior Pro and an excellent showing unfolded for the Oceanside, California, competitor as he turned in an 8.17. But, it was Florida’s Ryan Huckabee who slammed his forehand on multiple sections to accrue an 8.83 of his own and steal the show in Round of 32, Heat 7. Now, an all-important Quarterfinal showdown awaits as surfers look to push into the Top 2.
“I had a tough loss at the end of yesterday with a loss in the last minute of my heat, but now I’m fired up to compete in the Live Like Zander and hopefully go all the way in this one,” said Huckabee. “I’ve had a few results here and there this year, but it’s good to feel like I’m finally finding my feet in the QS, and it’s great that the juniors are 20-and-under now. It gives us that extra time to prepare for that next step and I’m excited for the weekend.”
Also earning clutch Round of 32 heat wins, current No. 1 Reed Platenius (CAN) joins No. 2 Jett Schilling (USA), Cannon Carr (USA), Tosh Talbot (CRC), and Wheeler Hasburgh (USA).Current No. 1 Talia Swindal (USA) and No. 2 Bella Kenworthy kept their momentum from the Qualifying Series (QS) 5,000 straight into their Pro Junior debuts, respectively, and push the pace of points needed to overtake them. Swindal’s forehand attack laid into the first critical section before finishing strong to take a big heat win, including a 7.50 (out of a possible 10).
But, Kenworthy’s excellent, 8.00 and 14.50 (out of a possible 20) heat total garnered the best of the Quarterfinal proceedings in dominant form as she continues to enjoy the best competitive season of her young career, currently sitting at No. 2 on the QS rankings.
“It felt good to get that 8.00, the waves are super tricky so when that wave came to me I was so happy because it’s really hard out there,” said Kenworthy. “My strategy was just to find a wave with face and try to get a turn in the pocket. It was hard to get a good one, but thankful I got a couple.”
“I wasn’t too nervous in that heat but I just needed a good start to the junior and keep it going” said Swindal. “I only caught two waves in that heat, but it worked out. It’s so rad. I had no idea it was even a possibility [to be No. 1] and after the contest we checked the ratings and it was sick. But, I’m just going to focus and keep surfing.”
WSL newcomer Mia McLeish (USA) debuted in brilliant form for her Round of 24 heat before taking on top-seeded competitors Sawyer Lindblad (USA) and Rachel Aguero (CRC) alongside an in-form Lilie Kulber (USA) to earn another big heat win with Sanoa Dempfle-Olin (CAN) also notching a clutch Quarterfinal victory.