Anthony Fillingim: photogenic

Perfect three-to-five foot waves greeted the 173 surfers competing at the 2011 ISA World Surfing Games, in Playa Venao, Panama. In the first day of action 48 heats were completed in two separate wave peaks.

Australia, Brazil, New Zealand and South Africa are the only countries that made it through the first day without losing any surfers into the repechage heats. Defending Team Champion Peru, USA and France, all of them powerhouse surfing nations, had at least one surfer that will now surf the do-or-die heats in the repechage rounds.

Llewellyn Whittaker, from South Africa, proved to be the standout performer of the day in the Open Men division. Employing a set of strong backhand moves, Whittaker achieved a combined score of 15.83 (7.17+8.67) to beat Magnum Martínez (VEN), David Godoy (PAN) and Luis Chamorro (NIC).

"Our team arrived five days before the contest, and we had a lot of time to practice on these waves," said Whittaker. "We are feeling very comfortable surfing here in Playa Venao. The level of competition is extremely high—you have the best surfers from every country at this event, but for those 20 minutes, you have to believe you will get through your heat."

Another victorious competitor in the Open Men division, Costa Rican Anthony Fillingim, surprised the local crowd with his powerful and innovative surfing. He beat Brazilian favorite Ian Gouveia by posting a combined score of 12.00 (6.00+6.00), leaving Jonathan Chila (ECU) and Erick Portillo (SAL) in third and fourth respectively.

"I felt I would win first place from the time I entered the water," said Fillingim. "Let’s hope I keep doing this well in the following heats. My Brazilian friend is a great surfer, but as everybody saw, I finished in the lead. We feel at home here where we’ve performed excellently in past tournaments. If all goes well, we will all make it to the finals."

Other in-form surfers in the Open Men division displaying progressive surfing and winning their heats were Drew Courtney (AUS), Hugo Savalli (FRA), Michael Campbell (AUS), Martín Jerí (PER), Justin Mujica (VEN) and Chris Waring (USA).

Marco Giorgi, Dominic Barona, Analí Gomez, Sofía Mulanovich, Nikita Robb, Silvana Lima, Jessi Miley-Dyer, Alize Arnaud, Tony Silvagni, Matthew Moir, Antoine Delpero and Taylor Jensen were other highlights of the event.