The World Surf League (WSL) Fins Pro Junior got underway Thursday in tricky, one-to-three foot windswell. With plenty of waves on offer due to the short-period swell, contest organizers were able to complete Rounds 1 and 2 in their entirety, along with Heats 1-4 of Round 3. Under the overcast skies of passing storms, the Pro Junior talent shined on the south end of the contest site at 16th Avenue and posted some impressive scores in the challenging conditions.
Putting together one of the highest heat totals of the day with a 14.54 in his Round 2 effort, Cam Richards (USA) was elated to make it through to Round 3 and is in his comfort zone here at Belmar. Richards' game plan of waiting for the best waves worked perfect, and he picked off the best two of the heat -- earning a 7.17 and 7.34.
"It's really nice to have a few waves come through and I'm glad there's something for us to have some fun on," Richards said. "It's really refreshing to feel at home on the East Coast and have the southern hospitality around -- you can't beat it. I've been coming to Belmar for the last six or seven years and I love it here."
Richards' board selection was a big difference maker in today's smaller conditions and the South Carolina native will look to continue his efforts in the first heat of the day tomorrow morning.
"I had a grovel board but these waves are pretty steep for being small so I'm just on a regular shortboard to get the pocket turns," Richards said. "Looking at the sets that would come through, your best bet was the second wave -- it just had more of a reform to offer you and it's fun going against the grain a little bit. It wedges off the rock a bit so it's nice to have that indicator of what's coming in and know some type of wave is there."
Exploding through Rounds 2 and 3, Kei Kobayashi (USA) earned a spot into the Quarterfinals -- showing that his hard work is paying dividends in the back half of the season. Kobayashi had to make it through a talent-packed Round 3 heat including Jake Davis (USA), who posted Round 2's highest single-wave score, 8.33, and heat total of 15.16, along with defending North America Junior Champion Parker Coffin (USA).
"It was tricky out there and all the heats are as equally tough but that one was a really stacked heat," Kobayashi said. "My 5'4 Matt Biolos is riding really well out here and I saved it for these type of smaller conditions -- I can't thank him enough for what he's done for my surfing this year. The first half of the year I was having kind of a shocker and so I started training a lot to get ready for this contest. I'm really stoked to make it through today and looking forward to tomorrow."
Kobayashi is doing overtime here in Belmar, also competing in the Pacifico Belmar Pro Men's QS1000 event and is feeling confident going into the action. However, winning the Fins Pro Junior would be a proud moment for the 17-year-old.
"I've never won a Pro Junior event and it'd be a dream come true to get my first one," Kobayashi said. "I've also really been focusing on the QS after Virginia Beach and trying to get into the Top 100. I want to get into the Brazil 6,000 event and a win here in that division would really be a big help toward that goal - just to win here in either event would be truly amazing."
Making his way from Puerto Rico to the Jersey Shore, Mauricio Diaz (PRI) exploded in the dying seconds of his Round 2 heat with a huge air-reverse finish to move from fourth to first place -- earning an 8.33 on his final wave. Diaz was beside himself, doubting his advancing chances as he waved for a situation update with only a minute left and heard his do-or-die position.
"I thought I was done for sure," Diaz said. "I kind of bogged that wave at the start of it and knew I had to do something good so just wanted to go big on it. I was just hoping for a wave like that. I paddled further to the left where the other guys weren't surfing thinking it would be easier and that wave came."
Diaz is looking forward to tomorrow's Round 3 heat, where he will take on Cam Richards (USA), Elijah Gates (HAW), and Daniel Glenn (USA). However, it all comes down to one key element for the Puerto Rican - no matter who he happened to draw.
"I'm super pumped right now," Diaz said. "I don't do many contests or make a lot of heats, so I'm so happy with my performance today. It's all about strategy out there and just getting the best two waves you can - it's pretty hard so I still have to master that."