Kauai Surfers Shine At Jr. Worlds

Kaoli Kahokuloa

Kaoli Kahokuloa celebrates after the U.S. win

The birthplace of surfing again has the hardware to prove it.

The 2012 International Surfing Association World Junior Championship featured its largest field ever compiled, with 31 nations competing at Playa Venao, Panama, from April 14 to 22.

Team Hawaii has been a major force at the event over the past decade, but the past seven years have featured some heartbreaking final days, resulting in two silver, two bronze and two copper medals.

This time, the final day only further solidified its place atop the leaderboard as the young Hawaii contingent came away with gold for the first time since 2005, followed on the podium by Australia, Brazil and (the rest of the) USA.

Four of this year’s 12 team members are Kaua’i riders. Two of the boys were a pair of elder statesmen for this young group, as Koa Smith, 17, and Kaoli Kahokuloa, 17, returned to represent the Hawaii flag under coach Rainos Hayes, who has led the “Ambassadors of Aloha” for the past 17 years.

Also from the Garden Isle were Tatiana Weston-Webb, 15, and Brianna Cope, 17, competing in the Under 18 Girls competition. “Tati” was fresh off her championship victory in the Rip Curl International Gromsearch at Bells Beach, Australia, on April 7.

Her big year continued as she was the only Kaua’i participant to medal at the ISA Junior Championships, claiming the bronze in a final heat that was three-quarters Hawaii owned.

Tatiana Weston-Webb carves in Panama. Rommel Gonzalez photos

With 81 girls beginning the event, three of the final four standing were Tatiana, Mahina Maeda, 14, and Dax McGill, 14, giving Hawaii a big chance to lock up some big points. Brianna had already completed a solid run, finishing equal 25th.

The trio was almost topped by Australia’s Ellie-Jean Coffey, who had the lead with just a minute remaining in the heat, but it was Dax who took a left all the way to the top of the podium with a 6.93 ride just before the horn. She was immediately lifted by her teammates and carried to the stage.

It wouldn’t be long before those same shoulders were lifting another one of their own, as surf and skateboard prodigy Kalani David, 14, and Josh Moniz, 15, each found themselves in the final heat of the Under 16 Boys division, which began with 104 surfers.

Once again, the youngest competitor flourished, as Kalani (13.50) just edged out Japan’s Takumi Nakamura (13.40) for Hawaii’s second straight gold. Costa Rica’s Noe Mar McGonagle claimed the bronze and Josh took the copper.

With five of the top eight finishers in the first two finals coming from Team Hawaii, the crew had built enough of a lead that having no competitors in the Under 18 Boys final didn’t keep it from claiming the overall top spot and the IOC President’s Trophy. Kaoli and Koa had come close, finishing equal 11th and equal 13th, respectively, in the 114-surfer field. Kain Daly, 17, was the team’s highest finisher, taking eighth place, while Isaiah Moniz, 18, finished equal 49th.

The famous Moniz name had three representatives on this year’s squad, as Josh and Isaiah also were joined by Seth Moniz, 14, who took equal 25th in the Under 16 Boys. Ian Gentil, 16, finished equal 13th in the same division.

The victory illustrates the depth Hawaii currently enjoys in young, competitive surfing.

The previous crop of amateurs has begun to take the sport by storm as John John Florence, Carissa Moore and Wailua’s Malia Manuel pile up wins and finals appearances.

The next wave, including the Kaua’i crew, is sure to spark similar excitement in the coming years.