Team Hawaii hopes to wipe out competition
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
After competing against each other for the past several months, Hawai'i's best young surfers are ready to take on the world this week.
The Verizon Wireless Hawai'i Junior Surf Team is in New Zealand this week for the Quiksilver ISA World Junior Surfing Championship.
The nine-day contest is scheduled to start tomorrow and run through Jan. 28 at Piha Beach, Auckland, New Zealand. It is considered the world championship event for surfers age 18 and younger.
"Just being picked to the team is a great honor," Kaua'i's Kaimana Jaquias said. "It means you're one of the top kids in Hawai'i, and there's so many good surfers here."
Approximately 250 surfers representing more than 20 countries/regions from around the world will participate. Hawai'i is recognized as its own region for the event because of its respected history in the sport of surfing. The United States will have a separate team.
"Everybody there knows surfing started in Hawai'i," said Ezekiel Lau of Honolulu. "It gives you a lot of pride and confidence to want to do better and represent Hawai'i and keep that reputation going."
Each team is allowed to bring a roster of up to 12 surfers — four each in the Boys 18, Boys 16 and Girls 18 divisions.
The surfers representing Hawai'i this year: Keanu Asing, Tanner Hendrickson, Jaquias and Lau in Boys 18; Kain Daly, Ian Gentil, Isaiah Moniz and Koa Smith in Boys 16; Leila Hurst, Malia Manuel, Nage Melamed and Alessa Quizon in Girls 18.
Professional surfers are serving as the coaches. Rainos Hayes is the head coach; Kahea Hart and Megan Abubo are assistant coaches.
The team was formed after a series of tryout sessions.
"It wasn't just about surfing talent," Hart said. "We looked at their maturity level, knowing that we would be traveling and competing as a team."
The team features five surfers from Kaua'i, four from O'ahu and three from Maui. Thanks in part to sponsorship from Verizon Wireless and Hard Rock Cafe, the team was able to meet for several practice sessions in recent months.
"The practices get pretty serious," Jaquias said. "But it helps us as a team. We're all pushing each other."
As Maui's Hendrickson put it: "In regular contests, you want all these guys to lose because that's your competition. But for this event, we're all cheering for each other because we're all surfing as Team Hawai'i."
Hawai'i placed second in the team standings last year. Australia is the four-time defending team champion.
"We were so close to first last year, it was really exciting," Melamed said. "Finishing second was amazing, but we really want to improve and go for the gold this time."
Asing won the Boys 16 individual world championship last year, and is moving up to the 18s this year.
"He's moving up to a tougher division, but his confidence level is there," Hart said. "If he's on his game, he's capable of doing it again."
The strength of the Hawai'i team could be the girls. All four placed in the top 10 last year, led by Quizon's third-place finish.
"It's really hard," Melamed said. "Girls I've never seen before from all around the world are surfing so good. It really opens up your eyes and makes you surf your best."
The biggest concern could be the waves. The competition is scheduled to run every day, even if waves are in the 1-foot range.
"You just have to hope for the best," Hart said. "But we've been practicing in small waves, too. You have to be ready for anything."
Several of the Hawai'i surfers recently competed in Australia at the under-21 world championship contest. Quizon placed second in the girls division at Australia.