Big finish at World Juniors

Finals day at the ISA World Junior Championships at Praia da Macumba, Brazil was not exactly a triumphant one for Australia’s Team Irukandjis, dropping from first to fourth on the teams ladder to secure a copper medal.


And it was a disappointing personal finish for Noosa’s Coco Cairns, who was in the running for the world title but narrowly missed the podium to finish seventh, still producing great form all week to be Australia’s second highest placing over all divisions. But for one Aussie it was a glory day, no doubt the first of many to come.


Pocket rocket Sierra Kerr won gold in the Girls Under 16 division with flawless surfing in clean but small conditions, cementing her reputation as the world’s fastest-rising junior star in all conditions. Claiming her first world title at the ISA world juniors puts her on a pedestal with fellow Australians Stephanie Gilmore and Tyler Wright, both former WJSC gold medalists.


Sierra was able to find big scores in each heat in her journey through the event, none more so than the event-high score of 9.93 that opened her semi-final. Though the final itself was a tighter battle, her sharp and exciting rail surfing was able to deliver her the win over USA’s Lanea Mons.


The daughter of former world tour stand-out performer Josh Kerr, Sierra has been flitting between homes on both sides of the Pacific since she was three, becoming as conversant with foggy line-ups at Lower Trestles as she is with the barrels of the Superbank at Rainbow Bay, not to mention towing into mid-ocean reefs with her dad.


A sporting all-rounder who has had a bash at a dozen sports and still finds time for her skateboard and her golf, Sierra is now well and truly on the global radar. Watch this space.


After two days of dominance by Australia, on the final day of competition, host nation Brazil rose to the top of the team rankings, winning three medals in total, including Ryan Kainalo’s gold in the Boys Under 18, along with bronze and copper medals respectively for Guilherme Lemos and Ryan Coelho in Boys Under 16. It was the first time two Brazilians had shared a Boy’s U/16 final since 2009, when Gabriel Medina won the silver medal and Jesse Mendes won the copper. The historic team victory for Brazil, the first since 2003, was also aided by the strength of their women’s team, which provided impressive performances throughout the event.


In other performance highlights at the Worlds, Japan’s first-ever girl’s gold medal was won by Anon Matsuoka who had been going from strength-to-strength in her competitive surfing career and claimed the gold in the Girls Under 18, while England’s Lukas Skinner, who won the Rip Curl Grom Search world title at Bells Beach last April, narrowly missed gold in the Boys Under 16 when Spain’s Hans Odriozola moved up a few gears to steal the win in the last minute. Skinner, cutely known as “Skinpup”, is the son of leading longboard pro Ben “Skindog” Skinner, not to mention the grandson of legendary Cornish publican Steve Skinner.


Always a surfer


The other day I was quite struck by a social media post from a veteran surfer of my acquaintance, George Leslie from Lennox Head.


It was a response to something another surfer had posted and George wrote:


“I saw a post from a guy this morning where he said that although his body is letting him down, starting to fail and he can’t physically surf anymore, he has surfed all his life and considers himself still a surfer and always will be. Thinking more about that and recalling some amazing times, here’s my angle on this part of life.


“At just over 78, with a recent new left hip and a new right knee in the program, and not having been on a board for two years, I am and always will be a surfer. Since starting at 12 years old I’ve been able to experience the amazing ‘60s and ‘70s, the ages of discovery, adventure, finding virtually unsurfed breaks and the rapidly developing board design and creativity, I feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of all that. Then being able to travel and experiencing amazing locations and waves, meeting great people, it was such a gift. To be able to plan and build a surf resort in an idyllic tropical paradise, and all that went with it, what experiences that surfing has brought me.


“Being able to help out with Surfing NSW, and at club level in administration, contest development and coaching, yeah another amazing experience.


“Whenever the image of a coastline appears on TV or in print, the first thing my eyes do is look for surf, check banks or rips and check out the potential, the swell lines etc … Yeah, I’m still a surfer and always will be.”


George and I exchanged a few notes regarding my use of his post here, and he told me: “One of the really interesting and quite personally rewarding things that has come out of my post has been the response from so many aging surfers that feel the same way but have never thought of expressing it, even from guys who are still fully active.”


With you on that one, George. Your words are inspiring for all of us who start to feel the physical challenges that come with age, but still we eat, drink, breathe and live to surf. That feeling never grows old.


Fingers crossed you’ll be back in the waves soon, mate, and in the meantime let’s recall the good times at Jails in the Maldives, not so long ago, after you’d spied this right across the bay from Sultans. Happy days.


FOOTNOTE: Just in as we go to print, first tropical cyclone of the season expected next weekend. Let’s hope it tracks right for favourable surf and no coastal damage.