Owen Wright

Aussies Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore may be the toast of the surfing world having wrapped up the men’s and women’s World Titles in Hawaii, but now the focus shifts to Australia’s fledgling junior stars to see if they can make history by claiming the world’s premier junior surfing event – the 2009 Billabong ASP World Junior Championships fuelled by Monster Energy – due to take place at Sydney’s North Narrabeen beach over eight days ning January 9th.

The winners will be crowned alongside Fanning and Gilmore at the ASP World Champions banquet in February, meaning Australia would hold four world titles concurrently, a first for the sport.

But the local contingent will have their work cut out for them if they are to reverse the trend that has seen Australia’s international reputation for dominance wane since Joel Parkinson last claimed the men’s title for the green ’n gold in 2001.

Lennox Head based surfer Owen Wright (Lennox Head, NSW) looms as Australia’s ‘most-likely’ with the talented goofy-foot among six seeded locals hoping to emulate the likes of 2008 winner Kai Barger (Maui, HI) who last year defeated number-one seed Jadson Andre (Natal City, Brazil) in the all-international finals showdown.

Wright will enter the event running-hot following an awesome season that saw the 19 year-old storm ahead of Barger on the World Qualifying Series rankings and not once, but twice play spoiler to American legend Kelly Slater’s attempt at a record 10th ASP Men’s World Tour title.

“Last year (in the Billabong ASP WJC’s) a lot of things went the wrong way for me,” reflected Wright, who hopes some famous ‘Northy’ tubes and his aerial act can take him all the way to a dream finish at North Narrabeen.

“It will be tough since the field has a lot of the same faces from last year, but I’m looking forward to it. Narrabeen is an awesome location the Alley rights are so puntable and the lefts are long and sometimes barrelling so I hope we get it pumping this year!”

Joining Wright in the 48-man field is compatriots Stuart Kennedy (Lennox Head, NSW), Dean Bowen (Gerroa, NSW), Chris Friend (Sunshine Coast, Qld), Garrett Parkes (Byron Bay, NSW), local hope Davey Cathels (Narrabeen, NSW), plus the winner from the Von Zipper Trials.

In all, the international field sees surfers from eight world regions represented -the USA, South America, Europe, Australia, South Africa, Japan, Hawaii and various wildcards.

Speaking from Hawaii this week, having just wrapped up the Triple Crown, Joel Parkinson (Coolangatta, Qld) reflected on the importance of the World Junior title in his list of achievements.

“It’d be great to see the title return to Australia after so many years and I know our juniors will be doing their best, but it’s a tough title to win,” said Parkinson.

“The last year I won (2001) I surfed against Mick (Fanning) in the final and as you look through the list of winners over the years, it is clear that this comp is an important stepping stone in a professional surfer’s career.”

In the girls division, three of the nation’s undisputed talents Felicity Palmateer (WA), Laura Enever (Narrabeen, NSW) and Tyler Wright (Lennox, NSW) will be among the 18-strong contingent trying to wrestle the world’s most prestigious junior title back from defending champion Pauline Ado of France.

Ado last year halted the streak of wins by Australian females who have dominated the division since its inception in 2005. Though Enever, competing at her home break, along with Wright, being the youngest competitor ever, male or female, to win a pro tour event, the Aussie girls will surely be the ones to beat.

Newly crowned Men’s World Champion, Fanning, considers the likelihood of a historical four-way clean sweep for the Australians, very possible.

“Owen is World Champ material if you ask me. I’ve watched him evolve over the years and I honestly think he’ll be the man to beat at the World Juniors for sure. And Tyler she’s already won the biggest prize purse in women’s surfing and she’s still only 15,” said Fanning.

“We’ve had a pretty quiet decade title-wise with Kelly and Andy Irons dominating. Thankfully Layne, Steph and Chelsea have been bringing the titles home. Hopefully we can bag all four this year and it marks the ning of a dominant new era for competing Australian surfers. That would be great to see.”

The Billabong ASP World Junior Championships mirrors the competition format of the ASP World Tour and is considered the sport’s ‘crystal ball’ for aspiring champions. In addition, a finals placing in the tournament affords the successful surfers an unrivalled seeding on the World Qualifying Series that serves as a springboard to the ASP World Tour.

Check out the Billabong ASP World Junior Championships fuelled by Monster Energy live at North Narrabeen, or view it via the live Internet web at www.billabongpro.com


SOURCE: ASP World Junior Championships