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High-Performance Showcase Sets Up Elimination Round Draws at SAMBAZON Junior

WSL

Mueller Makes His Move Alongside Brazilian Countryman Kainalo Wildcards Lindblad, Brooks, Benedetto Begin Rattling Proceedings

OCEANSIDE PIER, Oceanside, Calif., USA (Tuesday, January 9, 2024) - The race for the World Surf League (WSL) 2023 SAMBAZON World Junior Championships Hosted by Best Western titles got underway today with electric performances on opening day at Oceanside Pier in California. Three-to-four-foot, clean morning conditions provided competitors with a variety of opportunities to showcase their surfing. Men’s and women’s Opening Round heats were completed, setting up the event’s first eliminations when competition resumes. 

Defending World Junior Champion Earle and Standout Vaughan Lead Australian Charge

Reigning WSL World Junior Champion Jarvis Earle (AUS) started his title defense in winning form with opening-round success. Earle looks to become just the fourth multiple World Junior Champion to put himself among an elite class and rejoin the Challenger Series in 2024. 

Australia’s presence was reinforced with an excellent showing from 2024 standout competitor Joel Vaughan. Vaughan posted only one of two 10-point rides on the Challenger Series for his aerial antics. He showed his powerful forehand attack, finishing the wave for an excellent 8.17 (out of a possible 10) to accrue one of the day’s best heat totals, a 14.44 (out of a possible 20). North Shelly's Vaughan looks for a maiden World Junior Title to close his Pro Junior career and return to the Challenger Series. 

“I just saw Brady’s wave before, and he was a little late and it looked really nice, then the wave after came through and I was like I have to go on this one,” said Vaughan. “Every single heat is super stacked. You kind of just, almost try not to look at the heats. I’m really looking forward to just competing again in the Challenger Series. My goal is to qualify this year and put as much effort in as I can and work really hard toward that.” 

Mueller Makes His Move Alongside Brazilian Countryman Kainalo 

Brazil’s duo of Ryan Kainalo and Heitor Mueller earned South America early success as Mueller’s back-and-forth battle with current Hawaii/Tahiti Nui No. 1 Shion Crawford (HAW) and Australia’s Harley Walters garnered an Opening Round victory. Mueller earned his maiden WSL victory in 2019 and has since posted multiple wins both on the Qualifying Series and Pro Junior regional tours. But, Mueller now has sights on adding the pinnacle of Pro Junior competitions to his resume, the WSL World Junior Title.

“I’m happy with my performance in that heat,” said Mueller. “It’s my first time here in Oceanside. I just want to go with everything into the next heat.”

Also earning Opening Round victories and avoiding the Elimination Round, Jett Schilling (USA), Marlon Harrison (AUS), and Jackson Bunch (HAW) moved straight into the Round of 16.

Wildcards Begin Rattling Proceedings

One of North America’s rising talents, Taj Lindblad (USA), utilized his wildcard spot right away to earn an Opening Round win. San Clemente’s own, Lindblad, looks to make a statement in his final event as a Pro Junior for an opportunity to move straight onto the 2024 Challenger Series after showcasing a glimpse of his potential in 2023 among the Challenger Series contenders. 

“It felt really good to get that heat win,” said Lindblad. “I surf here a lot. Mostly because T-street is really flat, so we always drive down here and end up surfing the pier. It’s kind of home. I’m sleeping in my own bed and wins are fun, so that’s always a plus. It clicked in my head I probably need more foam. I’m lucky enough to have [Kolohe Andino], and he gave me three boards for this event." 

Young phenom and fellow wildcard Erin Brooks (CAN) provided a comeback spectacle in the dying moments of her Opening Round, Heat 3 debut. Brooks faced being sent to the Elimination Round by Janire Gonzalez Etxabarri (EUK) and Cocona Kawase (JPN) heading into the five-minute mark before taking to the air for a 6.27 and then showcasing her powerful forehand attack to garner the day’s best single-wave score, an excellent 8.33, and heat total of a 14.60. Now, the 16-year-old Brooks looks to continue her charge into the Round of 16. 

“It was the first heat of the year for me, so I was a little bit nervous,” said Brooks. “The girls in my heat were surfing so well, so I knew I needed to step it up and I was waiting for waves that weren’t really coming. I kind of had to scramble at the last minute. I don’t really get nervous. I just keep my calm breathing and just pray.” 

The wildcard threats weren’t done yet and Zoe Benedetto (USA) overpowered her maiden SAMBAZON World Junior Championships appearance with an excellent 8.00. Current North America QS No. 1, Benedetto, faced off with Asia Pro Junior No. 1 Kana Nakashio (JPN) and replacement competitor Eweleiula Wong (HAW), and took a commanding win to earn her place into the Round of 16.

“The first heat is always kind of scary but it is nice knowing it’s non-elimination,” said Benedetto. “I want to do my best and skip a round if I can so I was just trying to go through the motions and breathe. This is my first World Junior Championships. I haven’t really done that many junior events because I wanted to focus on the QS and making the Challenger Series. But [this event] is something you look at every year and think you wish you were there.”

Dynamic Opening Round wins from 2022 World Junior Championships standout Sierra Kerr (AUS), Africa’s No. 1 Louise Lepront (RSA), Noah Klapp (DEU), Bella Kenworthy (USA), South America's No. 1 Sol Aguirre (PER), and Europe's No. 1 Annette Gonzalez Etxabarri (EUK) pushed them straight into the Round of 16.

Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow, Wednesday, January 10, at 7:00 a.m. PST for a possible 7:35 a.m. PST start. 

For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.

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