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Meet the Athletes Competing in the Sambazon World Junior Championships Hosted by Best Western

In less than one week, the holding period for the World Surf League (WSL) Sambazon World Junior Championships Hosted by Best Western will open to determine the 2022 World Junior Champions at Seaside Reef in San Diego, Calif. The event waiting period opens on January 9 and holds a competition window through January 15, 2023. The field will feature the world’s best up-and-coming surfers aged 20-and-under, from each of the WSL’s seven regions. Only one woman and one man will emerge victorious, claiming the 2022 World Junior Champion Titles and securing a place in the 2023 Challenger Series.

Pictured:From 2021 Championship Tour (CT) qualification threat to leading both the 2022/23 North America QS and 2022 Pro Junior rankings, Sawyer Lindblad (USA) is one to watch.Credit: © WSL / Poullenot

Emerging Talents and World-Class Wildcards Chase a World Junior Title

San Clemente’s Sawyer Lindblad (USA) leads the rankings for the North American continent. The 17-year-old competitor was a Championship Tour (CT) qualification threat in 2021 and has had back-to-back successful years on the Challenger Series. Now, she returns to the World Junior Championships after an equal ninth-place finish in 2019. “It’s really cool to be able to compete in World Juniors for the second time,” said Lindblad.”I was only 13 the last time this contest ran, and I feel like I have grown so much more in my surfing since then. It has definitely been a goal of mine to win a WSL World Junior Title and to win one close to home would mean a lot.” Additional heavy hitters from North America include currently ranked No. 2 Rubiana Brownell (CRI) alongside world-class wildcards Alyssa Spencer (USA) and Kirra Pinkerton (USA). Spencer will have the home-field advantage being from Carlsbad, San Diego, and had a phenomenal run on the 2022 Challenger Series. Pinkerton earned the title of World Junior Champion in 2018 at age 16 and now has the opportunity to add another title in her last opportunity as a Pro Junior.

Joining these women at the top of the rankings for the North American region are 20-year-olds Alan Cleland (MEX) and Tommy Coleman (USA).

Coleman is spearheading a fresh crop of talent to come out of his hometown of Vero Beach, Florida. Cleland is a breakout surfer from 2022 from Aveces, Mexico, equally adept in beach breaks to waves of consequence.

They will both have to face the likes of 2019 World Junior Championships runner-up Kade Matson (USA) and fellow wildcard Jett Schilling (USA).

Known for her aerial antics and progressive surfing, Sierra Kerr (AUS) joins as Australia/Oceana’s No. 2. Kerr found herself tied at the top of the rankings with a big win at the Harvey Norman Tweed Coast Pro Junior before Ellie Harrison (AUS), who won three of the five Pro Junior events this past season, took over and finished No. 1.

“It’s going to be sick to go against good surfers, and it’s even in the WSL (CT) format, so it’ll be cool to try that out,” said Kerr. “If I’m not surfing out front of my house, I’m most likely surfing Seaside or Lowers, but most likely Seaside, so I’m super stoked for the event to be there.”

Marlon Harrison (AUS) leads the rankings for Australia/Oceania coming into the event. He kicked off his Pro Junior season with a massive victory at the Lake Mac City Pro Junior and made the Finals in four of five Pro Junior events this season.

He will be joined by fellow countryman and newcomer Lennox Chell who is coming off a win at the Peel Junior Pro. But, men's wildcards Joel Vaughan (AUS) and Oscar Berry (AUS) and women's wildcard Zahli Kelly (AUS) also add to Australia's talent pool in attendance.Europe’s leading contenders include Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri (EUK).

Gonzalez Etxabarri’s signature front hand helped her earn a win and three runner-up finishes throughout her 2022 Pro Junior campaign. For the men, Basque Country’s Bitor Garitaonandia heads into the World Junior Championships as Europe’s frontrunner, with France’s Noa Dupouy right behind him.

Also representing Europe are brother and sister duo and Teahupo'o chargers Aelan and Kauli Vaast (FRA). The siblings swept the podium at the Azores Pro Junior earlier this year and hope to do so again here at Seaside.

Aelan enters as No. 2, while Kauli comes to the event as a wildcard.Rising talents Caua Costã (BRA) and Ryan Kainalo (BRA) dominated their South American contingent in 2022 and also competed among some of the world’s best on the Challenger Series. Costã’s equal ninth at the Corona Saquarema Pro proved he is an emerging threat to the world’s best.

Kainalo has also gained valuable experience surfing in Challenger Series events at the Corona Saquarema Pro and Haleiwa Challenger.

Leading the rankings for South America’s women, Sol Aguirre (PER) and Laura Raupp (BRA) will be two to watch. Aguirre’s Qualifying Series (QS) victory in Chile and Raupp’s breakout performance at the Corona Saquarema Pro showed they are both capable of competing at a high level.

Both men competing out of the Hawaii/Tahiti Nui region, Eli Hanneman (HAW) and Jackson Bunch (HAW), were born and raised on the beautiful island of Maui. Hanneman’s resume is packed with jaw-dropping edits and success on the QS, earning a win at the 2022 Priority Destinations Pro pres. by Mastercard.

Bunch made his first full run at the QS this season and found success with a runner-up finish at Ala Moana Bowls to help secure his place in the World Junior Championships. “It's cool to compete at World Juniors again,” said Hanneman. “The last time I did the event, I think I was 16. We didn't have any junior events (and had to rely on the QS), but it is what it is. I'm excited to surf against just people my age.” Hawaii/Tahiti Nui will also be represented by two of its emerging stars, Puamakamae DeSoto (HAW) and Ēwelei’ula Wong (HAW). Both 17-year-olds have made their impact known on the Challenger Series, showcasing their power-surfing throughout the season. Wong recently competed at the Haleiwa Challenger at Home in the Hawaiian Islands and earned an impressive fourth-place finish.

Pictured:Tide-lee Ireland (RSA) was nearly flawless in his 2022 Pro Junior campaign with a win and runner-up finish.Credit: © WSL / PierreTostee

South Africa’s representatives include Tide-lee Ireland (RSA) and Luke Thompson (RSA) for the men. A win and runner-up finish for Ireland earned him the No. 1 spot on the rankings. Thompson got his first chance to make an appearance in a CT jersey at the 2022 Corona Open J-Bay, gaining valuable competitive experience.

While the women’s Top 2 competitors from South Africa did not claim their spots, a ready-and-able duo of Gemma Hanafey (RSA) and Louise Lepront (RSA) are excited for the opportunity to take on the world’s best juniors.

Rounding out this world-class field of young competitors, Kian Martin (SWE), Tenshi Iwami (JPN), Anon Matsuoka (JPN), and Nanaho Tsuzuki (JPN) head into the event as Asia’s top athletes. Martin sits on top of the rankings with wins at the Vans Bali Pro Junior and Minamiboso Pro Junior. Iwami’s win at the Asia Pro Junior has kept him at No. 2, where he’s held firm for the season.

Pictured:Former CT qualification threat Sara Wakita (JPN) earned herself a wildcard with the help of her Semifinal finish at the World Junior Championships in 2019. Credit: © WSL / PoullenotA familiar face on the Challenger Series, Matsuoka and newcomer Tsuzuki head into the World Junior Championships with plenty of momentum after a brilliant run through the season. Matsuoka’s two Pro Juniors wins, and Tsuzuki’s win at the White Buffalo Omaezaki Pro Junior secured their respective spots at the top of the rankings.

Joining as Asia’s wildcard, 2019 CT qualification threat, and former event Semifinalist, Sara Wakita (JPN), looks to capitalize on her last year as a Pro Junior before taking on the QS and Challenger Series full-time.

“I’m super thankful for the opportunity since we lost two years of World Juniors due to COVID,” said Wakita. “To be able to get back as a junior and go for the title means a lot. I feel like World Junior Championships is one of the most fun and most exciting competition.”

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The World Junior Championships Hosted by Best Western will open on January 9 and hold a competition window through January 15, 2023. Once called ON, the event will be broadcast LIVE on, WSL’s YouTube channel, and the free WSL app. Also, check local listings for coverage from the WSL’s broadcast partners.

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.


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