For the first time in the history of the World Surfing Games – the Olympics of the sport – held this year in Huntington Beach, California, Oct. 14 to 22, members of the Costa Rican surf team, as well as coach José Ureña, returned with medals around their necks.
Diego Naranjo, Lisbeth Vindas and Luis Vindas of the central Pacific beach town of Jacó and Nino Myrie and Gilbert Brown of Puerto Viejo, on the southern Caribbean coast, surfed valiantly in difficult conditions, including a low tide and a fog that rolled onshore mid-heat, to earn a fourth-place finish in the International Surfing Association’s (ISA’s) Nations Cup Tag Team event.
At the colorful awards ceremony, referred to as the “United Nations of surfing” by ISA President Fernando Aguerre, Brown spoke for his teammates in thanking the U.S. Surfing America Team for offering their spot in the Tag Team contest. The Ticos demonstrated their gratitude with gifts of Imperial beer, which U.S. coach Peter “PT” Townend, competitors Chris Ward, Julia Christian and others came onstage to happily accept.
Australia won first place in the Tag Team event, Brazil came in second and third place went to the South African team featuring Jordy Smith, the newly crowned winner of the World Surfing Games. Brazil’s Jacqueline Silva won the gold medal in the Women’s division.
Special medals were given to the entire judging staff, who made decisions on more than 3,000 waves throughout the competition.
Yeffrey Rojas from the northern Pacific beach town of Tamarindo was Costa Rica’s first-ever judge in this international tradition, which began in 1964 at Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia, when surfers from around the world represented their home nations competing for men and women’s surfing titles.
“As a Costa Rican, I’m so proud to have been able to come here and sit among these distinguished judges, doing this job for surfing that helps bring the world together,” Rojas said at a celebratory party held at Casa Costa Rica, the team-rented house where a delegation of 18 surfers, Costa Rican Surf Federation staff and Tico supporters lived and worked together for 12 days.
When the event was over, the Costa Rican team ranked eighth overall out of the 33 countries that attended the games’ 21st edition.
That is one position better than the Ticos’ accomplishment at the 2004 World Surfing Games, when they placed ninth. The teams that placed ahead of Costa Rica this year were Australia, Brazil, the United States, South Africa, Hawaii, France and Portugal, in that order. The United Kingdom placed ninth and Tahiti was 10th.
In the 2004 games, the other competitors didn’t include such high-level surfers as World Championship Tour athletes CJ and Damon Hobgood, Chris Ward and Pat O’Connell of the United States and Tom Whitaker and Luke Stedman of Australia.
Despite this, Brown – who was called “the surprise of the World Surfing Games” by the announcer during one of his heats – ended up ranked 15th of 113 in the Open category.
Diego Naranjo followed at 21st, Luis Vindas at 25th and Nino Myrie at 29th. Lisbeth Vindas placed 17th of 49 in the Women’s division.
Tamarindo’s Nataly Bernold at 13 years old was the event’s youngest competitor. She was not intimidated by her first international event, and had three impressive Women’s heats, according to Ureña.
Throughout the World Surfing Games, while the Costa Rican team progressed, accolades were granted by the media, organizers and surfers.
“Costa Rica – everyone is talking about Costa Rica,” said Matt Biolos, co-founder of Lost Enterprises, whose Lost Energy Drink was the games’ main sponsor, at the awards ceremony.
The ISA called Costa Rica “a power country” and dubbed it “surprise package Costa Rica” at the event’s conclusion.
Antonio Pilurzu, president of the Costa Rican Surf Federation – which was officially upgraded to a full member of the ISA this week – praised the team’s level of surfing at the World Surfing Games.
“Our boys and girls stood out at the end as some of the best in the world in the Tag Team,” he said. “In the competition itself, only seven countries surfed better than us.”
“We are very content with our performance in California because we were the best delegation of all Latin America with the exception of Brazil, and everyone knows now that we are a world surfing power,” Pilurzu added.
For complete results from the 2006 World Surfing Games, visit the ISA’s Web site at www.isasurf.org.