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It was a grim scene that greeted surfers at First Point this morning, but only by comparison.

Gone were the four-foot sets, and in their place a familiar scene; a calm, flat ocean. But sets still provided ample waves for competitors and contest would continue at its true home of First Point.

It was Juniors Day at the Laguna Real Estate Noosa Festival of Surfing, and the diminutive size of many of the surfers paid dividends. While sets were sporadic, there were still plenty of rideable waves and high energy and ample stoke abound.

The Pacific Longboarder Magazine Men’s Under 18s were the first to get wet and provided ample tribute to one of the festival’s co-founders. John Brasen, editor-in-chief of the magazine for many years, who would normally be in attendance, was notably absent, having suffered a massive heart attack while surfing in Hawaii just a few weeks ago. Thankfully, after significant surgery, Brasen is now back on Australian soil and regaining health, and we are sure he joined us online and would have been proud of the surfing in his division.

Once more, Hawaiian Kaniela Stewart was in fine form, the 16-year-old convincingly winning his opening heat, ahead of a highly talented Aidan Feeley. In the second, American Ryan Conklin narrowly ousted local Cale Coulter, fellow countryman doing likewise in the third, ahead of Cale’s good friend and fellow MS Surfboards team rider, Kai Annets.

Reed Smith from New South Wales took a nail-biter, decided only in the last exchange in the final 30 seconds, in the penultimate round one heat and the last took a huge turnover of placings, with over forty waves ridden between the six surfers. An agonising five-minute wait ensued as the judges desperately tried to catch up with a vast wave tally, and it was Jye Whyatt who would eventually take the final first place of round one, just ahead of William Hennessy, who jumped all the way from fourth to second on his final wave score.

On the ladies’ side of the under 18s coin, it was a Hawaiian one-two, with Alicia Kelley surfing gracefully to a win, with Mason Schremmer a very close second. Kalina Jones and Sally Cohen continued the trend of the Hawaiian contingent in the third and fifth, while local and world number six, Emily Lethbridge, flew the Aussie flag high and proud in the fourth heat of the round, presented by Noosa Juniors.

Across both divisions, the standard was nothing short of astounding, and it paved the way for a very exciting day of surfing.

Little in the way of talent diminished as the youngest competitors began their charge, the Surf Lifesaving Sunscreen Boys Under 15 in the water next, James Culhane and Tommy Coleman, both from the US, progressing directly into round three with wins, while Tim Bain took a last-minute victory over fellow Queenslander, Oscar Smith.

Queensland State shortboard champion, Liliana Bowrey proved that she was just as adept on a board twice the length in round three of the Bondi Bandits Girls Under 15 competition, good friend Luca Groh playing a similar game, while another Hawaiian in Kelis Kaleopa’a – who despite only being 13 years of age also made the final of the LadyLogger Pro division – was far beyond the reach of surfers in the first heat.

The second rounds filled in the gaps for the thirds, and Gus O’Malley, barely missing out in the previous round, returned to form in the Men’s Under 18 to progress, as too did young Frenchman Balthazar Guillore. In the ladies’ local Nelly St Baker won with balletic grace, and Lola Schremmer would live to fight another day, moving on to join her sister Mason in the next round.

Swell was on the increase as the tide pushed out, and so to was the wave count. Several of the juniors were filling their ten-wave allotted maximum through the heats, making for an exhausting time for the judges. Dallas Rogers finished narrowly ahead of Oscar Smith, Matt Bain filling the numbers for the afternoon’s final of the Under 15 boys.

With plenty of action happening in the water, Unitywater presented an all-day market in the XXXX Summer Beach Bar. With the induction of Noosa into the ranks of World Surfing Reserves and the festival becoming a plastic water bottle-free event, sustainability was a big part of this year’s event. Teams from Unitywater, as well as Sea Shepherd, Bondi Bandits, the Noosa Community Biosphere, Surfrider Foundation and SmartFin, had stalls that were both informative and fun, with plenty of sustainable wares to purchase to help combat single-use plastics, oceanic trash and environmental issues.

Has had happened yesterday with the Men’s Logger Pro event, contest director Alan Atkins made the much-appreciated decision to bring the LadyLogger final forward a day. As if she wasn’t surfing enough today, Kelis Kaleopa’a paddled out with the three other finalists, Mason Schremmer, Roisin Carolan and current world champion Honolua Blomfield – certainly not a bad effort even to make it this far for the 13-year-old. The gripping final saw numerous changed of lead, Roisin the only Australian in a field of Hawaiians surfing incredibly maturely, while Kelis used her light frame in the small waves very much to her advantage. Honolua moved into the lead in the latter half, though all was most certainly not over. As we have seen so often in this year’s event in particular, the last minute would hold the most action, both in the water and on the scoreboard. Too close to call, the division winner would remain a closely-guarded secret until tomorrow’s presentations.

New Age Caravans LadyLogger Pro wrapped up for 2018, it was back to the juniors, all heats bar the finals playing out today. Alicia Kelley was again superb, pipped at the last by the always-strong Malibu surfer Soleil Errico and the Schremmer sisters took one and two to pave their way to the finals. Emily Lethbridge surfed brilliantly through two heats to be the only remaining Australian in tomorrow’s final, alongside the two Schremmers, Mason and Lola, Soleil, a strong but inconsistent Avalon Gall and Sally Cohen, all from the US.

Kaniela Stewart was almost a lock-in for the finals from the first heat, and sure enough, the incredible noserider from Waikiki found himself in first spot for tomorrow’s event. Alongside him, a good mix of trans-Pacific surfers, including William Hennessy and Jye Whyatt, who’s incredible drop-knee turn earned him some valuable extra points.

With the wrap-up of the Sustainability Day markets, a Plastic Solutions panel was gathered, including Craig McIntyre of Surfrider Foundation, Mark Visser, big-wave rider and Unitywater ‘Back to Tap’ ambassador and Layne Beachley were among those discussing the very real need for more sustainable solutions, eradicating single-use plastics from our culture, protecting the ocean and making moves towards a waste-free future.

Rounding out the day, the repechage rounds of the under 15s were the last opportunity for surfers to fill the final three places in their respective finals. Dallas Rogers, Oscar Smith and Matt Bain would all be surfing again tomorrow, while in the girls’ big kudos and much local praise would go to young Coco Cairns, surfing brilliantly the take the win, joined by fellow Queenslander Luca Doble and another Hawaiian, Luluhia Kane to make the grade.

An amazing day of junior surfing concluded, but the sun was yet to set. Drinks were flowing in the XXXX Summer Beach Bar, and anticipation building at the end of the penultimate day of the 27th annual Noosa Festival.

Photos: Ian Borland & www.surfshots.com.au