Junior Pro SUP Fiesta
Last year at the Junior Pro SUP Fiesta, I didn’t make it through the first round and ended up in the repechage. In the repechage, I lost. This year was different.
Friday and Saturday before the event, I got to surf at Bolsa Chica State Beach in glassy, small waves. Honestly, I surprised myself. The quality of turns I was completing continuously were way more critical than I have ever done before. I was glowing internally with excitement but also a bit of fear that my turns were freak turns and on the next wave I would go back go my super stiff swishy turns. In practice my fears were luckily diluted and my confidence boosted.
Come contest morning, the wind picked up from the south and the waves had a bit more size. The mix of wind swell and ground swell made for a choppier break than the last two days. I told myself, “It’s ok, don’t think about an outcome, just think of the contest as one heat at a time.”
Before the surf heats began, I participated in the age group races. In my 15-17 age group, there were only a couple girls, but there were battles none the less. I got worked on a head high set and when I came up, one girl was head of me. By the time I rounded the first buoy, I had grabbed the lead back. From there, I maintained the lead and won the 10 minute or so race by a couple minutes.
Next up was the Junior Pro. My first heat didn’t go as planned. It took me a while to catch my first wave and I ended up second: but I avoided the repechage which was already an advancement from last year.
In the semis I strung together a couple decent turns, which was enough to get second, again.
Now for the finals. I knew I would have to pull everything out of the bag for this one. Izzi Gomez, the current leader on the Stand Up World Tour, knows how to compete and is brilliant on the water. Vanina Walsh is a talented surfer as well as a sup surfer who has been competing her entire life. Natalia Smith is a professional long boarder and knows what it takes to get the judges attention. I started sup surfing two years ago: my work was cut out for me.
As soon as the 25 minute heat started I caught an over-head size wave, made one turn in the pocket, hit the lip, went down the line, did a check turn, and finished off with a white water climb and a backside hit. My score came in at a 5.33. I had a solid lead. I was frothing! I just needed another one. I caught one not long afterwards, but fell on my second turn and got a two-something. I needed to improve my second score. There was about a five minute lull in the sets and I was starting to get antsy. Izzi had gotten a wave and was looking for a second, same with Vanina and Natalia. The announcers yelled, “Fiona, you are in first, Izzi you are in second, but all you need is a 1.99 to take the lead!”. Just then Izzi caught a wave. I didn’t see the her surf it, but I heard the announcer say, “I would put money on it that that wave was better than a 1.99.” When the score locked, it was. But, I then the announcer said, “Izzi, you are now in the lead, but Fiona, all you need is a 2.27 to take the lead back!”. I told myself I can do it. There was about 7 minutes left. I caught a wave at the five minute mark and rode it out. I connected turns, but fell at the end. I though it was only going to be about a two. I jumped back on my board and put every ounce of energy into my stroke to get back out to the line up. I had almost made it back when the announcer came exclaimed, “Wow! Fiona! Your last wave came in at 5.27! You are now in the lead!”. Three minutes to go. Can I hang onto it? I caught a little wave and made one turn, but kicked out when I noticed Vanina was on the same wave just up the beach and didm t want to risk an interference. When I came up, I knew Izzi was out the back all by herself with about a minute to go. I looked over and saw her in the water about to get worked by a wave. 30 seconds to go. There was nothing I could do but wait. When the buzzer sounded I was so relieved! 25 minutes of stressful battle was over and I had won!
I am still shaking with happiness and disbelief, but nothing can take away the emotions of the weekend. I really want to say congratulations to Izzi, for being such a tenacious competitor. She knows how to compete and I admire her seriousness and grace that she brings to the lineup during a heat, and her fun and laughter that envelopes the break while we are free surfing.
Vanina and Natalia deserve equal recognition as well. Their ‘stick-to-it’ attitude was extremely prominent through the tough conditions of the final. Congratulations to all the girls and boys who competed in the Junior Pro and Youth SUP Fiesta, you all deserve a round of applause! Congrats to Mo Frietas for winning the Boys Junior Pro as well.
Thank you so much to Candice Appleby and Anthony Vela with Performance Paddling for putting on this event. Events like these are what make me, and I believe I can say many others, so happy to be apart of Stand Up Paddle Boarding. You are our mentors and we appreciate your guidance throughout our youth years. Thank you!
HUGE thank you to Jeff, Sandra, Ryan and Ian, for letting me stay with you during my trip to SoCal!
I am so thankful for your generous support.
Photo courtesy to Jerry Jaramillo and Shutter Patt. I DO NOT OWN THESE PHOTOS.