An incredible final day of action at the Vans Pro Junior crowned rising, Brazilian talent Mateus Herdy its 2017 victor and takes the title back from North America contenders once more. Herdy's task was no easy one with the likes of event standout Joh Azuchi battling the Brazilian wave-for-wave as Yuji Mori and Tyler Gunter were left in combination situations just to get runner-up.
The 16-year-old Brazilian, alongside Mori, crushed the hopes of current North America No. 1 Ryland Rubens and No. 2 Che Allan -- who were each striving to earn points toward World Junior Championships -- with his vicious forehand in the Semifinals. But, Herdy saved his day's best for the Final and earned an excellent 8.50 on a critical forehand layback toward a crucial exchange with Azuchi -- who earned a near-perfect 9.40 on his previous wave with a gouging forehand wrap. Herdy regained the lead, and would not lose it again when the final horn sounded, and earned his second Pro Junior win of 2017.
"I'm just beyond happy after it's been awhile since my last win and now I'll turn my focus back to the QS, but I'll enjoy this moment until then," Herdy said. "I saw Yuji catching a lot of waves in the Semifinal so I knew I'd have to find some good ones and tried focusing on the airs if they came to me. Unfortunately, I lost in the Quarters of the QS, but that helped me keep my energy and knew I just had to choose the right waves. Most of my friends who are here could've gone and left for Europe, but they stayed to support me which meant so much to me. It's good to be surfing against these guys, even in the juniors where we'll be competing for years to come, and guys like Pat [Guduaskas] as well so I'm just really happy and will try to keep doing my best."
Despite Rubens' Semifinal exit, along with Allan not dropping any spots, he still remains the current No. 1 and inched even closer to solidifying himself in the Top 4 for a chance at his first-ever World Junior Championships appearance.
Azuchi eliminated North America contenders Taro Watanabe and Jacob Burke in his Semifinal alongside Gunter. The Japanese talent already has experience at the World Junior Championships, where he lost to eventual champion Ethan Ewing in Round Three, and continues to learn more with each passing event. But, Azuchi showed he's one to watch after his performance here -- dropping numerous excellent scores throughout the event and near-perfection in the Final.
"I'm super stoked to make that Final against these guys, but I really wanted to win so it's always a bit of a letdown," Azuchi said. "Especially after getting that 9 I thought I had a good chance. But, my arms feel like they're about to fall off after the paddle battles with Mateus. I'm stoked to be able to perform in the Final even though I came up just short."
Fellow Japanese contender Yuji Mori improved drastically on his Vans Pro Junior showing from last year, when was defeated in the first round of competition. This time around, the riding star made it to the Semis to earn third place.
Tyler Gunter also lost his momentum gained from a massive Semifinal performance that earned him a 14.76 total and remained in a combination situation when the final horn sounded. Gunter nearly matched his best result of 2017, falling one place shy with a fourth-place finish, but will jump into the Top 4 toward a spot at World Junior Championships. The 17-year-old now prepares for an adventure to get into the right mindset heading back to his hometown of Newport Beach and the RVCA Pro Junior -- his first-ever Pro Junior win last year.
"I'm super pumped to make the Final even though I didn't have the heat I wanted to, but it's a great result and now I really want to try and back up my win at home," Gunter said. "I was psyched going into that Final after winning my Semi and just couldn't find the right wave or I fell on a few that could've helped me out. We have a boat trip to Indo planned with some of the guys from here for the next 12 days so I can't wait for that and just come back super relaxed, and in a good mind space before putting the jersey back on."
The North America Pro Junior Tour returns to competition September 22 through 24 for the RVCA Pro Junior at Newport Beach, California.