Cristobal de Col: showing off those fins

Under a fading swell, Day six of the Billabong ISA World Games presented by Amarok of Volkswagen saw a tightening of the pack as the event inches itself closer to a podium finish, with Peru and South Africa vying for the top spot. With every division of the competition hitting the water today, there was no shortage of action amid the head-high rights at Caballeros.

From longboarding, and men and women’s shortboarding, the competition at the event reached a slow boil with each team striving to make their team and country proud.

Proof that surfing is growing in spades is the blossoming Polynesian powerhouse of Tahiti. The Tahitians have had an outstanding showing at the games this year. Year in and year out, the ISA Games continue to produce great moments in the sport.

And yesterday, surfing under the Tahitian flag, father and son team Jean and Heifara Tahutini, both scalped graceful wins in their respective heats in the longboarding division. If that wasn’t enough to add a flutter to the hearts of Tahitians watching the event at home, Hira Teriinatoofa advanced from his open shortboard heat in an agonizingly close battle.

The emotion in the repercharge rounds lit up the beach, with each team’s fans shouting and applauding wave after wave for their compatriots. Every round the competitors manage to advance brings a national team closer to the main objective: taking home a medal.

In the Open Men’s division, South Africa suffered the loss of Warwick Wright in the sixth round and Peru saw Javier Swayne eliminated in the seventh. The same happened to other top team members Mike Losness (USA) who fell down opposite to juvenile Cristobal de Col (PER) and Mick Campbell (AUS).

The South African Greg Emslie, who days earlier had said that he was “not losing two times in this contest,” demonstrated vividly what was obvious: he won six consecutive victories in the championship, which confirms his status as giant killer.

The whole South African team has proven to be physically and mentally sharp in the Games this year, fielding a pack of heavy-hitters. At the cusp of their team stands Emslie and Chad du Toit with both advancing into the next round of the Repecharge. “As the heats go on, the competition is definitely getting harder and you have to surf smarter,” said Emslie post-heat. If the Zaffas continue with their current pace, they could prove extremely lethal in the coming rounds.

In a tremendous blow to the Americans, both of their premier members, Mike Losness and Ben Bourgeois, fell from the Games today in narrow losses. All hope is not lost for the Americans however as Women’s Division Kulia Doherty tested her mettle with the Yank’s back against the wall.

When Team USA head coach Ian Cairns put two 14-year-olds on America’s squad he noted that it would be “good to get them some experience.” Maybe Cairns knew something nobody else did. Case in point: young Kulia Doherty. Today, with only a couple minutes left on the clock, she was leading Heat 4 of Round 3…against former world champion Chelsea Hedges who pulled a 9.0 out of her hat at the last second. She’d been surfing a smart heat, and was holding two moderate scores in the bag. By heat’s end Hedges would overcome the deficit to take first, but nevertheless, Doherty would advance on helping to keep America’s team’s hopes alive.

Longboarders Tony Silvagni and Steve Newton surfed their longer sticks with a combination of radical rail transitions and elegant footwork to remain in the Games.

But it wasn’t all good news. Down at Señoritas Trevor Thornton and Benny Bourgeois were both eliminated from the men’s draw. Meanwhile, in the repecharge Nikki Viesins won her heat but was beat at the buzzer in the next repecharge, placing even more weight on the young shoulders of Doherty. “I just tried to surf smart today,” Doherty told an interviewer afterwards. “Coach Cairns gave me some things to think about before I paddled out, and it really made a difference out there today.”

There were other tough battles as well: “It looks like the best surfing we’ve seen per square foot,” Adam Replogle claimed, referring to Silvana Lima’s opening wave in her Round 4 repercharge heat. Lima was then promptly eliminated from the event. “I think we just may have seen a pretty big upset right there,” followed up Replogle. Arguably the best female surfer at the Games somehow just went down to Enilda Alonso from Panama and Sarah Beardmore from the UK. Hard to bear, given the weight that she was carrying on her shoulders for Team Brazil, but that’s surfing-- those things can and do happen. In her defense, it was an extremely slow heat in tricky conditions. Prior to her heat, Silvana was seen in the stands enthusiastically waving the Brazilian flag.

Not every surfer at the ISA Games is coming from a pro surfing pedigree. Take English longboarder Ben Skinner, for example. Eliminated today in his Round 4 battle with Aussie all-star Harley Ingleby, Skinner comes from a family of beer makers—albeit stoked beer makers.

“Skindog,” as he’s known by friends and family back in Cornwall, is the son of Steve and Sarah Skinner, purveyors of Skinners Brewery. An award-winning brewery (which says a lot given England’s fondness for a good glass of suds), father Steve has been surfing since he was 15 and served a stint as the president of the Jersey Surfboard Club.

Ben was thrown in the pond at three, and has been at it ever since. He owns 16 British titles, a silver medal at the 2006 ISA Games, and is currently the only British surfer ranked on the ASP World Longboard Tour. The pluck Brits have put up a spirited charge in the 2010 World Surfing Games and look to be a top 10 finisher.

As day six of eight wrapped up for the women’s division here in Punta Hermosa Peru, there were several impressive shows and some disappointing ones as well. Heat 1 of Qualifying Round 3 included Australia’s Rebecca Woods, France’s Pauline Ado, Chantelle Rautenbach of South Africa, and Carina Duarte of Portugal all put forth great efforts in the 6 foot swells that they faced.

However, this qualifying round is a double elimination round and competition is fierce. Rautenbach and Ado came ready to make to it to the next round, smoking their opponents Rebecca Woods and Carina Duarte by almost double.

Not surprisingly in Heat 3 native Peruvian Sofia Mulanovich placed first with the highest score of the entire day, a 16.0, and placing second in that same heat, joining her tomorrow was Karelle Poppke of Tahiti. Missing the 1st place in her heat by only a fraction of a point was Paige Hareb of New Zealand; it was Anali Gomez, the other Peruvian native who took 1st place in the heat with a score of 10.66.

The last heat of the Qualifying Round 3 proved to be just as competitive as the first: Australia’s Chelsea Hedges came out on top with an impressive score of 14.00, and following close behind representing the USA was Kulia Doherty who finished with an 11.17.

With only two more rounds of qualifying to come before the Women’s final, and only the best of the best continuing on, the battle for the best waves will be intense.

Maverick: new event organizers

The Half Moon Bay Surf Group has been granted the right to run the legendary Mavericks surfing contest. The San Mateo County Harbor District voted 3-0 to give beach and parking access to the new group.

The contest was held, since 2003, by the Mavericks Surf Ventures, a professional company. The new group of surfers wants to share the contest earnings with local youth groups and local charities, like the Boys & Girls Club.

The premiere big-wave contest off the Half Moon Bay coast will be sponsored by Barracuda Networks.

The group lead by Grant Washburn is working closely with the Sheriff in order to erect fencing during the contest to block access to eroding bluffs.

Last year, spectators were swept off their feet by strong breakers. Also, the organization is going to set up large screens outside the competition area, so that the crowd can watch the event safely.

The event will run between December 1st and February 28th.

Celine Gehret: nice boards

Day five of the Billabong ISA World Surfing Games presented by Amarok in Peru saw a number of nail-biting heats for the ladies, longboarders and open men’s divisions at the long and section-marked right-hander at Caballeros.

With the swell dropping ever-so-slightly to just overhead, the quest for gold medals and national pride is in full swing. And while it’s still early in the event, there are a few countries emerging as definite contenders - and a lot of them are Hispanic.

Going into the fifth day of competition, in the team standings there was a four-way tie for first between Costa Rica, Peru, South African and the United States. And giving chase was Brazil in fifth place and Australia and Spain tied for sixth.

But beyond some of the predictable players, it’s been amazing to watch the emergence of Central and South American countries as viable medalists. You could call it a Latin Uprising. As far as the preliminary rankings go, you’ll find Chile, Venezuela and Mexico in the top ten, all vying for podium position, with Puerto Rico and Argentina hot on their heels.

Yet if any of them might disrupt the establishment and win gold it may be the host country of Peru. And With Matias and Sofia Mulanovich fronting the team, with multitalented Gabriel Villaran, up-coming Cristobal Del Col, and young Anali Gomez serving as lethal support, they’re boasting a stacked squad.

The wildcards on the team may be their longboarders Benoit Clemente and Juan Jose Corzo. Corzo has been relegated to the repercharge, but otherwise it’s “all systems go” for Team Peru. When Villaran exploded with a 9-point performance early this afternoon, the large Peruvian weekend crowd nearly levitated off the beach. The thunderous jubilation was deafening all the way from the other side of the bay.

The most anticipated heat of the day however, was the clash of the titans- Australian Pro’s Mick Campbell and Drew Courtney versus American heavyweights Micah Byrne and Mike Losness. Although the heat was called a draw, it was a bit anti-climactic, as neither Campbell nor Losness was really able to exhibit their true arsenal.

The South Africans made a massive comeback today, advancing out of all of their repercharge heats to stay extremely strong in the points position. Team captain Greg Emslie absolutely destroyed his heat, and teammates Warwick Wright and Chad du Toit took 1st and 2nd in a heat both were in.

After watching the rest of the international surfing teams cut through the rippable Peruvian peaks for the past three days, the longboarders finally got back to the water today.

Front-lining the action, Australia’s Harley Ingleby once again stood in fine form at the ISA Games. Last year, in one of the closest heats of the event, Harley narrowly lost out on the gold medal. Ready for redemption, Harley threw down a phenomenal performance today and advanced with one of the day’s highest scores at 15.67 points.

Other standout performers today in the longboarding rounds included last year’s gold-medal winner Antoine Delpero (FRA) who proved just why he’s the surfer to beat with his characteristic power and finesse. Surfing in the Men’s Open as well as this longboard heat, he admitted to feeling the pressure doing double duty. “I was trying to save myself a little to be ready for this heat,” Delpero said after decisively winning his heat. It obviously paid off.

Ireland’s John Coady was the lone Irish representative to the Games this year, but he rode with commitment and abandon. The global economic downturn really hurt the Irish team Cody explained before his heat: “We lost our sponsor and most the guys couldn’t get their needed money together.” His own story of how he got to Peru is a fairy tale story itself: “I had some friends call me up and ask ‘If we find the support for you will you go?’ My response was ‘Absolutely!’ Three weeks later I was fully funded to make the trip. It was fantastic Irish luck!”

Even though he wasn’t able to advance taking a tough 3rd in his heat, the Irishman represented Ireland with great gusto.

Switzerland’s Steve Vogel surfed elegantly on the few waves he was able to keep his speed under control. He didn’t make the cut but what an effort from the team in red & white.

Meanwhile Mexico’s Patricio Gonzalez, Ecuador’s Leonardo Merchand, Argentina’s Martin Perez all moved ahead with wins. Remember that Latin observation? It isn’t just about the Open Men’s; Spanish-speaking longboarders and women, both racked up points today as well.

Speaking of the Ladies, Ecuador’s Dominic Barona, Puerto Rico’s Idalis Alvarado, Costa Rica’s Lizbeth Vindas and Nataly Bernold, Spain’s Garazi Sanchez, and Panama’s Enilda Alonso all advanced in their repercharge. And Silvana Lima, Brazil’s top Women’s Pro crushed her heat today. Can you see a pattern emerging here?

The afternoon saw the men’s open shortboard surfers return to the lineup and put on one of the most progressive and inspirational performances of the event so far. In the fourth round of competition, every heat proved jaw-dropping.

At the forefront of the shortboard highlights, Peruvian surfer Matias Mulanovich once again looked downright lethal as he advanced with an arsenal of seamless maneuvers. With every high-speed float and rail-gouge laid out by Mulanovich, the Peruvian crowd screamed their approval from the beach.

Showcasing the progressive, aerial approach that has come to define the modern surfer, Brazil’s Peterson Crisanto threw down one of the most technical moves of the event with a massive frontside air reverse. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to move the Brazilian through the heat, but nevertheless the goliath punt earned him the respect of all onlookers.

But let’s put aside the gold medals or team standings, for a moment. A big part of the ISA Games is the cultural exchange that goes on between surfers. Consider teams like the Sweden, Israel, Germany or Switzerland. None of those countries ranks among the planet’s surfing hotbeds, and chances of them walking away from this thing with medals dangling from their necks was always slim. But the energy and camaraderie they bring is totally infectious.

Here’s an example of just how international the field really is: Sweden’s Freddie Meadows who narrowly missed advancing yesterday is half British (so his English is perfect.) He’s a native of Sweden where he lives in the warm months (so he qualifies for his country.) And he lives half the year in his family’s home in Costa Rica (so he rips like a pro.)

To borrow a phrase from the surfing industry, this is how you “grow the pond.” The representative surfers from these emerging wave-riding countries will have garnered some much-needed international competitive experience, but more importantly, they’ll have participated in one of the biggest surf contests in the world and will be taking lessons learned regarding event infrastructure, judging, webcasting, and all that goes hand-in-hand with running a successful contest back to their homes.

They will likely share it with their local population, and hopefully use that knowledge as a platform to continue building and strengthening surfing in their home countries. Victory doesn’t necessarily mean bringing home a gold medal. In the grand scheme of things, it’s all about how you define success, and countries like Israel or Jamaica are winners just for paddling out in Peru and being part in this United Nations of Surfing…