Surfing Games Offer Sun, Fun and Spirited Competition

August 7, 2009

The Costa Rica Team cheer on their teammates as they compete

The Costa Rica Team cheer on their teammates as they compete

Tico Times Staff
By: Adam Williams

Thousands of people from around the world have lined the dark sand beaches of Playa Hermosa this week for the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Surfing Games.

This competition, the biggest international sporting event in Costa Rican history, has provided the fans with everything they came to enjoy: sun, fun, a beautiful beach, brilliant displays of surfing and a diverse, spirited audience hailing from many of the 36 nations represented in the competition.

“Our biggest goal is to enjoy ourselves,” said Costa Rican surfer Gilbert Brown. “At the end of the tournament, if we win, we will celebrate what we accomplished. If not, we will be thankful for the opportunity and enjoy the party on our home beach.”

Brown, possibly the most popular and easily the most recognizable surfer in the competition, with his long spiraling blond locks and ever-present smile, embodies the attitude of the competition. That is while surfing is the principal focus, the beach scene and ancillary activities definitely enhance the event.

“The response of the fans of the surfing world and the Costa Rican people has been marvelous,” said Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides. “We are very pleased with all the (visitors) from around the world … and we are happy to see them enjoying the beautiful beaches, great people and great surfing we offer in Costa Rica.”

The flags of nations as far away as Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Austria, and as nearby as Nicaragua and Panama, wave above the crowd of thousands of flip-flop-, bathing suit- and sunglasses- clad enthusiasts. Approximately 30 meters from the shoreline, a row of bamboo-framed huts, each adorned with the flag of the nation it houses, serves as home base for the various teams. And as the afternoon heat builds, the surfers seek refuge in their shade.

Tamarindo local Federico Pilurzu is competing for Team Italy

Tamarindo local Federico Pilurzu is competing for Team Italy

The most prominent tournament ritual is the gathering of a contingent from each surfer’s nation – consisting of teammates, coaches, fans and family – as he or she enters or exits the water. In heats composed of surfers from four different nations, supporters of each country stand at the shoreline, wave their nation’s flag and cheer for their surfer.

The crowds that gather for the home team Costa Rican surfers dwarf the others. For each Tico surfer, hundreds of enthusiasts gather at the shore, cheer and chant “Ole! Ole, Ole, Ole! Ticos! Ticos!” At the conclusion of each heat, the Tico surfer paddles back to shore and is welcomed by a swarm of fans and press.

“I didn’t expect so many people and this much support,” said Costa Rican surfer Diego Naranjo. “It’s incredible. It helps us when we are out in the water and it motivates us. It is so good for the team to know our country is behind us.”

Format of the Games

Both the Men’s and Women’s Open competition began on Saturday, Aug. 1. The Men’s Open featured 32 heats of four surfers each, with the Women’s Open holding 16 heats of four surfers each. Essentially, the competition is a double elimination tournament format. Surfers finishing first or second in a heat advance. If they finish third or fourth, they are dropped to the repercharge grouping, which serves as a losers’ bracket. In the repercharge grouping, surfers finishing first or second move on to the next round of the repercharge. Surfers placing third or fourth in repercharge are eliminated from the competition. The format is the same for the men-only longboard competition, which features 16 heats composed of three or four surfers each.

Each heat lasts 20 minutes,the time during which judges from different countries score each wave of each surfer on a scale of zero to 10. At the completion of each heat, scores from the best two waves are combined for a total round score.

In addition to the individual results, each team represented in the heat also earns points.

How Ticos Have Performed

Heading into Friday, Costa Rica is in fourth place, behind Australia, the U.S. and Hawaii.

Throughout the week, Costa Rica has proven to be one of the top surfing nations in the world. Led by Jason Torres, who finished fifth in the 2008 World Surfing Games in Portugal, Brown, and 16-year old Carlos Muñoz, the Ticos are demonstrating their prowess on the world stage.

Torres has again proven himself as one of the world’s top surfers. After finishing second in his opening heat on Saturday, he recorded two of the top 10 wave scores on Sunday – a 9.00 and 8.33 – on waves that he rode all the way to the beach. Torres’s combined score of 17.33 is the highest score of the competition to date. Torres continued to shine throughout the week and, in the 4th round Thursday, he finished first in his heat to advance to the round of 16 on Friday.

Brown, who won his first round heat on Saturday, had a tremendous showing in the World Surfing Games. Brown recorded the highest wave score of the tournament, a 9.23, and advanced to the fourth round of the main event on Thursday. In the heat, Brown committed an interference penalty and fell into the repercharge group. In the sixth round of repercharge, Brown was unable to muster his best surfer, and was eliminated from the competition, finishing amongst the top 24 surfers in the world.

Since Tuesday, super-kid Carlos Muñoz has been the talk of the competition. Muñoz stunned the crowd with his round 4 and 5 repercharge wins on Tuesday. In both his repercharge heats, Muñoz received a penalty for interfering with other surfers. The interference penalty, which deducts half a surfer’s points earned on their second highest scored wave, creates a nearly insurmountable deficit to overcome.But Muñoz did it on Tuesday, twice.

“When you lose your leash three times, get two interference calls, and still take the highest scores, that’s beyond just great surfing” said former U.S. surfer Jimmy Hogan, who now lives in Costa Rica. “That’s pure entertainment!”

On Thursday, Muñoz won two repercharge heats and is still alive for Friday’s round of sixteen.

Luis Vindas, the fourth member of the men’s open roster, won his first heat and advanced through two repercharge heats before bowing out in the fourth round of the repercharge.

On the women’s side, Lisbeth Vindas, the 7-time Costa Rican national champion, fared very well this week, finished in the top 16 of female surfers. Vindas, who advanced through her two first heats, was eliminated in the fifth round of repercharge. In the ISA World Surfing Games in Portugal in 2008, she finished 25th.

Seventeen year old Natalie Bernold, who won her first heat on Saturday, was eventually eliminated in the fourth round of repercharge.

The longboard competition began Wednesday, featuring Costa Rican surfers Diego Naranja and Antony Flores. Naranja advanced past his first round heat before exiting in the second round of repercharge. Flores won his first round heat and a third round heat before falling on Thursday in the third round of repercharge.

Remaining Schedule

The ISA World Surfing Games actual competition will conclude on Saturday in Playa Hermosa with the championship. A closing ceremony will be Sunday at the Hotel del Terraza del Pacífico, which is the official hotel of the games in Playa Hermosa.

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