The World Surf League (WSL) North America Regional Junior Tour Champion trophy will have added significance in 2017 as it will be officially dedicated to the late Zander Venezia, the 16-year old Barbadian surfer who passed away from a surfing accident in September, in honor of his contribution and impact on the North American Junior Tour. The 2017 Junior Tour will culminate on the island of Barbados next week at one of Venezia's most beloved waves, Soup Bowl, at an event that also has been aptly renamed in his memory as well -- the Live Like Zander Junior Pro.
Venezia was an avid competitor among the Pro Junior and Qualifying Series (QS) ranks with his career just beginning to blossom when heavy surf on his home island claimed his life. North America Tour Manager Brian Robbins watched the young Barbadian grow within the sport that he loved and, along with General Manager Meg Bernardo's nod, decided it was something that needed to be done after receiving the Venezia family blessing.
"This has been a tough couple of months for all of us with Zander's [Venezia] passing and we can only imagine the pain Barbados and his peers have felt with his loss," Robbins said. "His family has given so much support to our tours over the last few years hosting events and growing professional surfing to new levels in the Caribbean. Our office came together and decided that it was only right to pay homage to Zander by dedicating the Pro Junior Regional Title to his honor."
"What makes it even more significant is that we will end our junior season in Barbados, where our World Junior Championship regional qualifiers will be determined," added Robbins. "We're grateful for the opportunity to honor Zander's legacy in this way, as he was such a great representative of his generation and our sport and we'll miss him dearly."
Zander's family -- father Louis (pictured above on the right), mother Lisa, and sister Bella -- have received an outpour of love from around the world following their loss and are grateful for that support. Louis traveled to every event alongside his son, watching him grow into the great young surfer and man he became, cherishing every minute of it all. In honor of the event, the Venezia family will be handcrafting the Live Like Zander Junior Pro In Memory of Zander Venezia awards.
"We are honored that the WSL is dedicating the year to Zander and as always we are looking forward to having a great event at Soup Bowl," Louis Venezia said. "It will be great seeing all of the friends, competitors, and their families who myself and Zander had the pleasure of meeting and sharing so many special memories with throughout the years of our travels."
Since Zander's tragic passing, the surfing community close to him have come together to remember him by using the hashtag #LiveLikeZander. By incorporating this phrase into the title of this week's event, the Venezia family wishes to spread the message about just what it means to them.
"The hashtage "livelikezander" means to be true to yourself and follow your dreams," Venezia added. "To love what you do and do what you love. To be happy with what you have, while working for what you want. To have a positive outlook on life and never be absorbed in negativity. To live every day to the fullest and never take life for granted. To inspire others to be the best version of themselves. And to aspire to be the kind and genuine person that Zander was in his short time on earth."
Ryland Rubens currently sits at No. 1 on the North America rankings and has the opportunity to earn the inaugural WSL North America 2017 Junior Champion In Memory of Zander Venezia trophy. The Ocean Beach, California, native is having his best career season with multiple Final appearances and heads into Soup Bowl looking to solidify that top spot among a stacked field.
"Barbados is such a nice place and to have the event and regional trophy in Zander's honor is appreciated," Rubens said. "I only surfed against him maybe a few times, but he seemed like a great kid and always looked stoked so it would be rad to earn this award. I think it's great. I'm sure he's looking down and will be stoked that there's an event, and now trophy, honoring him -- that's a special thing."
But, Barbadian surfer Che Allan is within striking distance and can earn the top honor with a repeat victory at Soup Bowl if fate falls his way. Allan and his countrymen continue to remember Venezia across the world with paddle outs in his honor from Japan to Santa Cruz. This marks Allan's last year as a Pro Junior and knows that this event is a special one to him, along with the entire island nation.
"It's such an honor just to surf an event in memory of Zander [by itself]," Allan said. "I would love to defend my title and win the region, but more importantly I just want to have fun throughout the entire event like Zander always did. I have so many good memories growing up with him, from waving the flags supporting team Barbados at the ISA in Ecuador and Cali, traveling the East Coast together to the Ripcurl Grom Searches, and my clearest memory is his backside style. He was the only other goofyfoot grom out at Soup Bowl every day so we learned so much from watching each other constantly. It's definitely a bit of extra pressure on me to win, but right now my focus is just to stay in qualification for Worlds."
Women's Junior Tour No. 1 Alyssa Spencer is well on track to earn the award, heading into the the Live Like Zander Pro Junior In Memory of Zander Venezia event with a 580 point lead, after place runner-up last year. Spencer garnered two of three Finals thus far in 2017 and hopes to make one more to complete a dominant season, and receive the inaugural award in honor of Venezia.
"It would be so special to win this year's regional title and also the inaugural trophy dedicated to Zander," Spencer said. "I wasn't super close with Zander, but I remember him being the nicest kid and he would always have a smile on his face. He really loved surfing and he just wanted to have fun. I miss seeing his face at the contest. I think it's going to be an emotional event for everyone. Coming back to Soup bowl is going to be very special, but it's definitely going to be different this year without Zander there."
The North America Junior Tour Regional Champion Trophy in Memory of Zander Venezia will be given to the top ranked surfers on both the Men's Junior Tour and Women's Junior Tour following the final event of 2017 at Soup Bowl, Barbados, November 9 through 12.