At last year's Vans US Open of Surfing Men's Junior event, a North America representative kept the title within region and flew the red, white, blue up the beach. However, Luis Diaz (CNY) captured the title away from North American surfers Jake Marshall (USA) and Nolan Rapoza (USA), while also topping Japan's Yuji Mori (JPN) in an international Final showdown.
Hailing from the Canary Islands, Diaz could not believe he earned the win when coming out of the water. Though he will not earn points from this win because the event is out of his European region, it was a momentous milestone in the young competitor's career. It is the 17-year-old's first Junior Tour win on American soil and has done it in one of the biggest arenas surfing has to offer.
"I'm so stoked, I really can't even believe I won that," Diaz said. "Everyone has been shredding this whole competition and I just had to find the two waves that would allow me to surf to my best ability. I knew that 8 was going to be a good score even though it wasn't the best wave. I felt that I surfed it really well and I was so excited to get rewarded for it. The day before this competition started I was so nervous, I felt like my surfing was at a good level but it was intimidating. Each heat I was gaining confidence, and to come out on top, there's just no better feeling."
Marshall hasn't had a good result in this year's Junior Tour competition and made serious headway here at the Huntington Beach Pier securing a runner-up finish. Accumulating 750 points toward his North America rankings, the Encinitas, Calif. native jumps up to No. 6 on the rankings with steam heading into the East Coast leg. Marshall has big ambitions on the horizon and will look to capitalize on all of them.
"It's definitely disappointing but I'm excited to make the Final, it's a great step in the right direction since I haven't been doing well in the juniors this year," Marshall said. "It was a pretty weird heat after that first exchange and seeing what the scores were, I thought we all surfed those pretty well for what they were but it's not something I'm lingering on. The last exchange with Luis was crazy with us both getting those eights, but he surfed really well and got the edge on me."
"I'm hoping to take this momentum swing into Virginia for the junior event there, but also the QS3,000 that's there. I'm really trying to gain experience at that level and it's a big confidence builder. World Junior Championships is also a goal of mine so I'll keep working toward that."
Japanese talent Yuji Mori (JPN) nearly claimed another huge win for his Japanese brethren after Hiroto Ohhara's (JPN) incredible win last year. Mori was in-form throughout this event, eliminating many North America hopefuls and will now head back to his native Japan a Vans US Open finalist -- a title he considers a huge honor with the support he's received from the crowds here at Huntington.
"I'm so happy to have made that final, it was incredible to surf against those guys in waves that are much better than my homebreak," Mori said. "I just want to thank all the people that have been coming down to the beach and cheering for me, it meant so much and I couldn't ask for more. It's crazy to see all the people come down for a surf contest like this, there's nothing I can compare it to. Guys like Hiroto have really helped push the sport of surfing for us and I hope to do the same for the younger guys around me."
Rounding off the stacked Junior Men's final, local surfer Nolan Rapoza (USA) found his second Final of the year but came up short once more. But, the 16-year-old knows it's an experience to hold onto and will look for more in the coming events. This result moves Rapoza even closer to the No. 1 spot behind Kei Kobayashi (USA), only trailing by 235 points.
"That was a little rough knowing I made a few mistakes, but I just get a little too excited when I see good waves coming through," Rapoza said. "I know I have to use priority better and just be patient when I see these guys getting good rides, and wanting to get on them myself. I'd really love to get a win on the Junior Tour this year, it's one of my bigger goals heading forward, but I'd also like to do well on the QS and get that knowledge dialed in. It's a learning experience and I know what I have to from here on out, it's just about keeping my focus on those goals and doing my best."