You could see the disappointment on Tyler Gunter's face, all the way on the other side of the world.
Gunter, from Newport Beach, has been in Australia for the Jeep World Junior Championship, which is the world championship for 18-and-under surfers.
Only 36 surfers qualify for the contest after a year's worth of contests all over the world. In each of seven regions — Australia/Oceania, Africa, Hawaii/Tahiti Nui, Europe, Asia, North America and South America — the top four surfers qualify for the championship contest, with eight other wild cards selected. Gunter finished fourth in the North America region.
Gunter, who turns 18 on Jan. 26, also qualified last year, but this year he appeared poised to make a run at the world crown. He got through the first two rounds, including an elimination Round 2 heat victory over Hawaii sensation Eli Hanneman.
In Round 3, as one of the final 24 Junior surfers still in contention for a world title, Gunter was up against Che Allan of Barbados.
Tuesday's conditions at Bombo Beach in New South Wales, on the southeast coast of Australia just south of Sydney, were challenging to say the least. The waves were not big and did not have good shape, so there was slim pickings for all the surfers.
Gunter grabbed the lead early in the 25-minute heat with a 5.00 on his first scoring wave, then followed it up with a 5.13. He got through 22 minutes with the lead, as Allan was able to muster only a 4.93 and 3.50, needing a 5.20 as the clock wound down.
But with just over two minutes remaining, Allan had priority and got a decent enough wave to pull off two big snaps and impress the judges into giving him a 6.50. Allan added a 5.27 leaving Gunter needing a 6.64 in the final minute.
In the last 10 seconds, Gunter grabbed a wave and raced down the line before trying a desperation air reverse. He didn't land it but even if he did, it might not have been enough. As the horn sounded, Gunter just dropped his head and rested it on his board, the disappointment obviously apparent.
Gunter, though, has nothing to hang his head about, and we all know he's just getting started.
And true to his upbeat personality, Gunter posted congratulations to the eventual winner, Finn McGill of Hawaii, on Instagram and included the message: "Ended up with equal-13th in the WSL Jeep World Junior Championship. Definitely stoked to start off the new year in Australia at worlds. Now it's time to enjoy a few days in Sydney, then go home and get ready for the next one."
I am wondering, though, if Gunter is going to have to change his Instagram name of "Instagrom" when he turns 18, since he won't be a grom anymore. Maybe some of his nearly 16,000 followers can give him some ideas.
Other Orange County surfers who competed in the World Junior Championship included San Clemente's Cole Houshmand, who like Gunter was eliminated in Round 3.
In the girls' competition, Kirra Pinkerton of San Clemente, just 15, reached the quarterfinals before being eliminated, finishing an equal-fifth place in the world.
Olympic format update
I mentioned in a recent column how the surfers will be chosen for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan.
I had most of it right — there will be 40 surfers total, both men and women, that qualify, with 18 of those (10 men and eight women) coming from the World Surf League Championship Tour rankings.
Twenty spots will be determined by results at the 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games, and the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, with the final two spots, one man and one woman, coming from host nation Japan.
Of course there will be plenty of countries that have no surfers represented, but there is a limit to two surfers per country, with one caveat.
Here is the specific wording on the qualification process:
Olympic Qualification Places – The ISA agrees to allow up to the first 10 ranked eligible men's surfers and first 8 ranked eligible women's surfers in the 2019 WSL CT (maximum 2 per country) to directly qualify to the Olympic Games, provided they meet the ISA eligibility requirements. Should there not be 10 eligible men within the top 34 ranked CT surfers or 8 eligible women within the top 17 ranked CT surfers, any unfilled slots shall be reallocated as follows:
The men's and women's team Gold Medalists in the World Surfing Games in 2020, allowing a nation to potentially have three surfers qualify for the Olympic Games. These athletes to be selected off the CT rankings and then from Qualifying Series ratings if not filled off the CT rankings.
Any additional unfilled slots will go to the next ranked eligible surfers on the final 2019 QS rankings.