A 16-year-old San Clemente surfer has earned the 2018 WSL Women’s World Junior Championship after a stellar season of competition.
Kirra Pinkerton’s championship title came after winning the Taiwan Open of Surfing in 3- to 4-foot surf on Thursday, Dec. 6, at Jinzun Harbour, beating out Hawaiian surfer Keala Tomoda-Bannert in the finals.
The World Surf League reported that Pinkerton “surfed with poise and composure beyond her years, chasing down scores in the dying minutes in each of her finals day heats.”
Pinkerton started the final heat with a strong lead, but Tomoda-Bannert earned a high score of 8.20, leaving the San Clemente surfer in second place and needing a big score to retake the lead. With only two minutes left in the heat, Pinkerton did just that, earning a high enough score to regain the lead and win the event.
Pinkerton’s score of 15.27 was just enough to edge out Tomoda-Bannert’s 15.03.
“This hasn’t really sunk in yet so I don’t even know if this is real,” Pinkerton said in an interview with WSL following the competition. “My goal when I came to this event was to win it so I’m pretty proud that I got here. It’s been a really intense day today as there were so many close heats I didn’t think I’d make.”
She said it helped that conditions were similar to those in her hometown.
“I’ve had such an amazing time here in Taiwan, it’s a beautiful coastline and the waves have been so fun, really similar to my home around San Clemente so it really suited me,” Pinkerton said.
Pinkerton joins a list of stand-out surfers who hail from Orange County’s southernmost city.
Three San Clemente surfers — Kolohe Andino, Griffin Colapinto and Patrick Gudauskas — compete at the most elite level, the men’s World Championship Tour. Caroline Marks, a Florida surfer who moved to San Clemente a few years ago to pursue her surfing dreams, competes on the women’s World Tour.
Another San Clemente surfer, Samantha Sibley, competed in the women’s championship event, making it to the semifinals until Pinkerton beat her during that heat.
En route to her world championship title, Pinkerton won the WSL North America Junior Qualifying Series, after winning two events and having several stand-out finishes throughout the year at stops around the country.
“This has been an amazing year with some good results and plenty of experiences on the JQS (Junior Qualifying Series) and QS (Qualifying Series) around the world,” she said. “This is definitely the highlight of my career. To be a WSL World Champion feels amazing.”
San Clemente male surfers had a challenging run during early rounds, with the elimination of Crosby Colapinto, Cole Houshmand and Kade Matson. Newport Beach’s Tyler Gunter, who earned the North America men’s junior championship, is still in the running.
Watch the men’s event when it resumes live, here.
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