- 02 August 2009 | Surfing
If you think Colombia, Switzerland, Ecuador, Germany and Austria aren't surfing nations, think again. On the opening day of the Billabong ISA World Surfing Games, each of these countries advanced, sometimes besting the big surfing nations in the process.
With thousands of spectators packing the thin line of fine black sand, Paul Grey from Germany won his heat against powerhouse surf nation of Brazil, Carlos Goncalves of Ecuador advanced over Tahiti and tiny landlocked Switzerland took a 2nd to move into Round Two.
“We are so happy to be here,” said Tino Staheli, a Swiss team member. “The international level of surfing just keeps going up and up and up. Sometimes it is a bit intimidating!”
Ecuador, not exactly a top rated favorite in the event, had 3 major wins, taking advantage of the 3 to 4 foot changeable beachbreak waves.
"We have been training hard and I believe that was key to our wins today,” said Carlos Goncalves. Added winner Israel Barona, “I was lucky to find the best waves and do the things well in them. The competitors were good, but my wave ion was the major factor.”
Brian Toth from tiny Puerto Rico set the highest heat total on podium 1. “Toth looked like he was on a Formula One surfboard – he was going that much faster than everyone else,” said Gary Linden a former ASP President and one of the announcers at the event. “The crowd went wild when he was performing.”
The crowd, numbering in the thousands, cheered for the underdogs, like Inelek and Icah Wilmot from Jamaica who surfed brilliantly in their heats, but still didn´t make it.
“It was the biggest crowd for an international contest in many years,” said Graham Stapelberg, VP of Marketing at Billabong, sponsor of the event. “We couldn't have been happier with the attendance.”
Host nation Costa Rica made it through each of their six contested heats in the opening round, matched by Australia, South Africa and Brazil. The USA team was the only one to place all of their surfers in first place in their heats. Nat Young, Cory Lopez, Ben Bourgeois, Austin Ware, Courtney Conlogue and Sage Erickson won their respective first round matches.
Other outstanding performances came from Hawaii´s Roy Power, Australia's Mick Campbell, Frenchman Jeremy Flores and Austria's Chris Schinitzer.
“The team members are not your typical landlocked Austrian,” said Johnny Nessinger, Team Manager of Team Austria after the shocking victory of Chris Schnitzer over Latin American Champion Martín Passeri and Trinidad & Tobago's Keith Lewis. "Chris, for example, was born in South Africa and now lives in Great Britain and surfs in Newquay.” Some team members even train in Austria: "In the rivers, when the ice from the mountains melts, a static wave forms that can easily reach four feet.”
Standout surfer Brian Toth summed up everyone's feeling on the first day with this comment: “Puerto Rico is very happy to be here! It makes me happy to be back in an ISA event because we feel so proud to represent our country. Here you feel patriotism of the strongest form. I travel a lot on the WQS and the World Surfing Games is a much more personal event. I am delighted that we all are close, surfing for our homelands and flying our flags.”