All Of A Sudden Groms Are Surfing At World Class Level
All of a sudden my eyes have been opened to the radical development of a sport by it’s most junior athletes. This week the Rip Curl Grom Search Australian finals were held in the Illawarra region just south of Sydney. The forecast for the week was scary. Last week when we were looking ahead there were waves between eight and ten feet predicted on a heavy southerly swell that is usually seen in the winter months. Tuesday would be the peak of the swell with 30-knot winds and monstrous sets. How would the groms as young as 11 be able to surf these conditions?
(Hahahahahahahaha.) That’s pretty much my reaction to watching and commentating the event.
On Monday we set up at Woonona Beach with some protection from the swell that was four or five feet on the sets. It was the beginning of what was to blow my mind. Not only did every single grom run down to the water’s edge, they paddled and paddled and paddled and duck-dived and paddled and then, on occasion air-dropped off ledges of water nearly triple overhead for some of them. No fear.
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Day two was shifted to Bellambi Point which offered a lot more protection from the peak of the super south swell but still, the groms paddled out in four-plus feet waves with not an ounce of fear. The bombie just north of the competition zone spilt in waves that looked similar to a The Right in Western Australia. The level lifted again as the surfers went wave for wave and scores were awarded up into the nines.
Finals day arrived and the swell didn’t actually look like it had dropped off at all and the day was called on at Sandon Point, one world-class wave that is heavily localised. Both Sandon and Woonona Boardriders Clubs, who have some of the countries best surfers past and present were incredible in their support of the event and helped in managing the crowds who were frothing on surfing. The waves were frightening at times as they sucked up and sat up off the rock platform between six and eight feet. But the groms were running down the bluff across the rocks and jumping off the platform like it was a two foot day at a beach break. They were smiling.
And despite an outstanding level of surfing in all divisions (12, 14 and 16) that cannot be accurately described with words, I was most impressed with the performances of the under 12’s. Finals day at Sandon Point clearly demonstrated the dynamic progression of surfing as a sport and the ridiculous skill that was demonstrated in manoeuvres, competition strategy, sportsmanship and understanding and management of the ocean was something that has me lost for words. These girls stand less than four or five feet tall, weigh less than 50 kilograms and the boards they’re riding are under five feet. Yet what we saw from them was a fearless strength and capability, under pressure of competition that perhaps has not been seen before. I saw 12-year-old Keira Buckpitt duck dive a set wave that would scare a lot of the weekend surfers then turn quickly and paddle late into the second wave in which the lip sucked right up underneath. She was at her feet and air-dropped what could only be described in scale relation, a Pe’ahi bomb then bottom-turned and performed three carves before kicking out and paddling back out. My breath is still taken away.
It was a historical week in junior surfing that’s for sure, and for that reason, I’m listing every surfer who competed in the event and congratulating them on an incredible performance.
*All photos below by ETHAN SMITH // SURFING NSW
Mia Huppatz, Quincy Symonds, Jahly Stokes, Jessica McGettigan, Isi Campbell, Zahlia Short, Sarsha Pancic, Emily McGettigan, Keira Buckpitt, Tyla Hurst, Cali Barrett, Sara Hickson. CHAMPION: KEIRA BUCKPITT
Nyxie Ryan, Charli Hurst, Lily Macdonald, Zali Hewson, Ellie Harrison, Sage Goldsbury, Maddie Cawood, Mackenzie Davidson, Cedar Leigh-Jones, Amelie Bourke, Lucy Tandler, Ellia Smith. CHAMPION: NYXIE RYAN
Bodhi Leigh-Jones, Jesse Starling, Grace Knight, Molly Picklum, Kirra-Belle Olsson, Elle Clayton-Brown, Holly Williams, Sasha Baker, Tru Starling, Arabella Wilson, Piper Harrison, Anna Toohey. CHAMPION: PIPER HARRISON