Hawaii's always had a lot going for it when it comes to surf, but right now it appears the next generation of girls coming up are worthy of special note. Propelling Team Hawaii to an overall gold medal finish at the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Junior Championships in Salinas, Ecuador, last week, Mahina Maeda, 16, and Tatiana Weston-Webb, 17, successfully defended their ISA world titles, racking up individual goal medals in the Girls 16-and-under and Girls 18-and-under divisions, respectively, as they led Hawaii to its second team gold in three years.
With the top junior surfers from 32 countries in attendance, Maeda played the role of inspirational underdog. Leading up to the contest her training sessions were limited by sciatica nerve pain radiating throughout her lower back, hip, and knee. The injury had the teenager from the North Shore of Oahu in dry-dock for several months leading up to ISA Worlds. Through shiatsu massage and perseverance, Maeda trained on an accelerated schedule with a nagging injury to get prepared for Ecuador.
"It took a lot of dedication, courage and hard work for me to defend this title," said Maeda. "A month or two before I started training for this event I was out of the water for two to three months -- I had Sciatica. Training for this event was a lot of work for me to do because I was in a lot of pain, too. I did my best to work hard and the work paid off for me."
Fueled by Maeda's tenacity, Webb capitalized on the sizeable surf in the Girls 18-and-under final to take her second ISA gold medal. The last day of ISA Worlds provided double-overhead surf, giving Team Hawaii a distinct advantage over the field of competition.
"Just being able to go back in my last year [of ISA World Junior Games] and defend my title was a dream come true," explained Webb. "I saw Mahina win her [the Girls 16-and-under division] before me and that amped me up even more. I was so stoked for Mahina that I think I came off her high and I ended up winning the gold."
The ISA World Junior Championships is one of the models that is being looked at by the International Olympic Committee should surfing ever get voted into the Games. The event's team component is unique because the majority of surf competitions are usually on an individual basis, which brings national pride into the equation. The team spirit and camaraderie built through ISA competition offers the competitors a chance to wave their flags and bang on the drums.
"I truly enjoy competing as a team more than competing as an individual," says Maeda. "As an individual there is [not the same kind of] support. When you're on a team everybody eats together, interacts with each other, and does everything together and makes you more confident in yourself. It's a better environment, you feel more comfortable and you want to do twice as many things than if you were by yourself."
Webb echoes Maeda's sentiments regarding the intangible benefits of surf team contests. She also believes that the ISA model of competition would be easily adapted to the Olympics if there was a manmade wave attached to the Games.
"I think surfing would be ideal for the Olympics because it takes hard work and dedication like any other sport does," said Webb. "Surfing is as hard as any other sport, especially with so many variables that are out of your control. If they were to develop a wave pool and bring it to the Olympics it would show what surfers have to offer and more than surfing just at a contest ... I think that surfing in the Olympics would definitely bring up our sport."
Finishing behind Team Hawaii was France, Australia and then Team USA finishing in fourth place.