• Jack Freestone signs with Billabong ahead of World Juniors final

Gold Coast surfer Jack Freestone will go into this weekend's final leg of the ASP World Junior Tour - the Billabong ASP World Junior Championship fuelled by Monster Energy - with the ratings lead and a new major sponsor.

Jack, aged just 18 and the winner of the Oakley World Junior Championship event in Bali in October 2010, has signed with Billabong, joining a team that includes World Championship Tour surfers Joel Parkinson and Taj Burrow and fellow World Junior Championship competitors including Australians Dean Bowen (33rd) and Ryan Callinan (17th), Hawaiians Granger Larsen (9th), Kaimana Jaquias (17th) and Keanu Asing (17th) and South Africans Sean Joubert (9th) and Dale Staples (2nd).

In a further boost to the Billabong junior ranks, Billabong has also signed Byron Bay shredder Soli Bailey and Hawaiian super-grom Ian Gentil, who has also forced his way into the World Juniors that begins in Sydney on Saturday.

"The future is certainly looking bright in our junior ranks," said team manager Sasha Stocker.

"We already had a very strong team in place but the addition of surfers such as Jack, Soli and Ian has taken it to another level.

"It will be great to see so many of them go head to head at Narrabeen over the next week and, while Jack is at the front of the pack after winning the first of the two-event World Junior Tour, he has a few of his teammates snapping at his heels."

The Billabong ASP World Junior Championship fuelled by Monster Energy runs from January 8 to 16 and is being webcast live on www.billabongpro.com.

It has been 10 years since the ASP World Junior crown has been won by an Australian, with three-time Triple Crown champion Joel Parkinson (winner in 1999 and 2001) the last of his countrymen to hold the trophy aloft.

Other former winners of the Billabong ASP World Junior Championship include Maxime Huscenot of France (2009), Hawaiians Kai Barger (2008) and Kekoa Bacalso (2005), Brazilians Pablo Paulino (2007 & 2004) and Adriano de Souza (2003) and South African Jordy Smith (2006).

"The ASP World Junior Title is such an important stepping-stone, to achieve what Joel (Parkinson) has done would be really, really special," said Jack. "When you look at the list of winners' names, every surfer has gone on to the World Tour and a solid career, and of course, I'd love to bring it home for the green n' gold. It's been too long!"

The event stars the top 45 junior surfers on the planet, plus three wildcards, and carries a total US$95,000 prize purse. More importantly, it affords the finalists an unrivalled seeding in ASP Star and ASP PRIME events that serves as a springboard to the elite ASP World Tour.

"I feel like I am in a really good spot, I would have been happy with the quarters in Bali, but I got the win," said 18-year-old Jack.

"There is definitely a little bit more pressure for me to do well at Narrabeen now, but I wouldn't trade my position - being in the box seat is perfect."

Dale Staples, aged 20, will be pushing hard to topple Jack from the top of the ratings heap and become only the second-ever South African to claim the title since compatriot Jordy Smith won in 2006.

At stop one on the ASP Junior Tour in Bali, Dale came close to toppling Jack on a heart-stopping last minute ride in the final.

"I had a pretty good wave, a solid tube which I didn't come out of and it could have been the winning ride, for sure," said Dale. "But, I was happy to make the final and we'll see what happens at Narrabeen.

"It's (the Billabong ASP World Junior Championship) easily the most important event of any junior surfer's career, it's the one to win for sure. Narrabeen is a high performance wave. There's not much you can't do out there. It's a beachbreak and I'm sure every surfer in the event will be going hard and pushing it. I'm looking forward to it," added Staples.

Explosive Hawaiian, Keanu Asing (Ewa Beach, Haw), 17, is among the pick of international names in the 48-man field. He is ranked No. 1 in the ASP Hawaiian Pro Junior rankings and will return to Narrabeen for a second time.

"The performance across the board has been crazy this year," said Keanu. "We've seen guys pulling new tricks, airs … just going crazy. Narrabeen is a good left and if it's firing could favour the goofy-footers. The Brazilian's especially, they love it. We saw Jadson (Andre) doing the craziest aerials last year and guys like Miguel (Pupo) will be on fire. I think the field will be more evenly matched than what we saw in Bali. It will go down to the wire."

The Billabong ASP World junior Championships fuelled by Monster Energy is made possible with the support of Sony, Volkswagon, VonZipper, Nixon, Australia's Surfing Life Magazine, Manly Warringah Council and NSW Sport and Recreation.