In what could only be called one of the best Junior Tour events in recent memory, thanks to pumping four-to-six foot conditions, Tyler Gunter claimed his first-ever Pro Junior victory at his home break of 56th Street Jetty within Newport Beach, Calif.
The hometown hero had to take down a formidable field including Nolan Rapoza, Jake Marshall, and Micky Clarke in a tight Final that witnessed Newport-native get off to an early start and never look back. The local community rallied behind Gunter throughout this event and chaired him up for the first time in his professional career.
Gunter began his day with a heavily contested Semifinal in prime 56th Street Jetty conditions as he locked into multiple barrels, finishing them off with his forehand attack to place just behind the in-form Rapoza. Feeling the confidence from that performance, he then got started early in the Final with a quick 4.17 (out of a possible 10) and added to it with a 6.67 before posting a near-excellent 7.33. Gunter held on to that lead until the end before increasing the number to an 8.10 to solidify his win and earn his maiden victory.
"This is the best day of my life, that was so insane and can't believe it right now," he said. "After I made it through the Semis I didn't even care, I was so pumped with the waves just firing. This is my favorite type of Newport and I surf it like this a lot so I was definitely stoked to know what waves to pick that would let me get a score on. It felt good to get those two turns to really get my Final started and once I got that everything just seemed to get better and better -- I just felt like I couldn't fall."
The win puts Gunter right into the mix for earning a place into the World Junior Championships as he now sits at No. 5 on the North America Junior Tour rankings heading into the last event of the year, the Soup Bowl Pro Junior in Barbados. But, he knows there's still plenty of work ahead of him and after a formidable display of forehand surfing will turn to his backhand at the right pointbreak of Soup Bowl.
"After the second or third event I didn't think I'd have a chance at making it into Worlds this year with a bunch of Quarterfinal finishes," Gunter said. "Now it looks like I might have a shot so hopefully go into Barbados and do the same thing. I don't want to get too excited, knowing I need another great result, but it's really cool to be in the running for that and I'd love a chance to get in there."
Rapoza stole the show early on in the first Semifinal to kick off the final day of competition with a Perfect 10 -- finding a hollow righthander that he was able to come out of and finish with a variety of powerful forehand maneuvers. The Long Beach, Calif., native continued that form into the final and earned runner-up, throwing caution to the wind as he tried to chase down an 8.83 to overtake Gunter. But, when the final horn sounded it would cut his run short.
"That felt so amazing to get a big start, the wave just came to me and it was 10 in itself so I just had to surf it," Rapoza said.
"It gave me a little bit of a confidence booster, but everyone was surfing so well so I knew I had to get the best waves out there. To get another Final is great and I think it solidified me in the Top 4 which was my whole goal this year -- now I just want to win the title and really complete my goals."
The runner-up finish did in fact solidify Rapoza for a spot into the World Junior Championships, as he becomes North America's first guaranteed surfer to clinch a spot, with 3,325 points.
Marshall, meanwhile, is still in the hunt to maintain his position in the Top 4. His third-place finish moves him into No. 3 over Griffin Colapinto and one step closer to achieving his goal.
His backhand attack gave him the edge in a close Semifinal that had Elijah Fox leading the entire heat until the final minutes that both Marshall and Clarke were able to capitalize on. But, the same form couldn't be found in the Final for Marshall as the waves went silent in the final minutes and left him needing a score.
"That was super fun, it went a little slow for the Final but third-place isn't too bad and it sets me up for the final event which I'm happy about," Marshall said. "It was pretty hard to get a wave to yourself with the jetty acting like a pointbreak. Tyler [Gunter] just ended up being out there by himself for the two best waves of the heat and he surfed really well. Third is definitely better than losing that close Semifinal even though I still would've like to have done better. It's in the past now and I'll move forward to get ready for the next one."
Clarke, for his part, was all smiles after turning in his best result as a Pro Junior with a fourth-place finish at the RVCA Pro Junior presented by Jack's Surfboards. Clarke earned his ticket into the Final with his last two scoring rides, a 6.67 and 3.67, after the ocean provided once last opportunity for him to display his powerful backhand. But, in the final minutes as his board buckled while he searching to get out of a combination situation, meaning he needed two new scores to earn a win, and clinch a title.
"I don't even know how to feel since I've never made a Final before," Clarke said. "I think it'll all absorb when I wake up tomorrow, but I wasn't sure what to expect out there -- definitely wasn't expecting to buckle a board. It felt so unreal after never really pushing through a Semifinal so to get into that Final felt super good. Now I'll get set for Barbados and I'm so stoked to go since I've never been there, and just look forward to the whole experience."
The North America Junior Tour will head to Barbados for the Soup Bowl Pro Junior November 10 - 13 to conclude its 2016 season.