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National Surf Champions Decided

“It’s Diego Naranjo’s year,” said José Ureña, president of the Costa Rican Surf Federation, after awarding the Jacó native his trophy for the 2006-07 National Surf Circuit championship.

Naranjo, 26, had just finished first in the circuit grand finals, which took place last weekend in the central Pacific beach town of Jacó.

Rising among 155 inscribed competitors in three-to-five-foot waves, Naranjo went into his “backyard” without a strategy, yet was confident. He chose waves remarkably well and surfed hard, using experience to top his younger brother Juan Carlos, 20, who pulled tricks such as alley-oops and reverses in attempts to outscore his big brother. Also in the heat were two other Jacó surfers, including aerial specialist Luis Vindas and young firecracker Jairo Pérez.

When the horn blew, it was the final heat in the six-month tournament that decided not only the overall Open champion, but also 10 other national surf division titles.Winners of the grand final were announced last weekend, and then points were added up – the best three scores throughout the circuit season plus the finals – to decide the year’s trophies.

Ureña proclaimed Diego Naranjo “the best competitor in Costa Rica.”

“Good things happen to good people, and that’s Diego,” he said. “He’s good with the sponsors; he’s good with the kids. His image is the cleanest, and this win is his payback.”

Jason Torres, also of Jacó, a crowd favorite who went into the weekend ranked first in the Open category, lost in the semifinals and earned second place for the year in the Open.

At the beginning of the season, Naranjo wrote down “circuit title win” as a goal, and has since made it real. Standing with his trophy, he noted he’d been waiting seven years for this accomplishment.

“I am very proud to be the Costa Rican champion because we have one of the best levels of surfing, especially in this region (Jacó),” Naranjo said.

Naranjo will continue his work with the federation developing a pilot surf-instruction program for schools, part of the work the federation has been doing with the Ministry of Public Education.

His immediate plans following his championship achievement include marrying longtime girlfriend and five-time national women’s surf champion Lisbeth Vindas in June.

Vindas, 25, beamed with pride as Naranjo received his trophy. But the international surf ambassador, who had just returned from Guatemala where she earned her second Central American women’s surf championship (TT, April 13), was also happy for another reason. She was smiling as she relinquished her longtime spotlight to 14-year-old Nataly Bernold, who won both the finals trophy and the 2006-07 overall women’s championship (Vindas placed second in both spots). The upset makes the young girl from Tamarindo, on the northern Pacific coast, Costa Rica’s national women’s surf champion.

Speaking from the podium, Vindas said she was proud to see Bernold receive the honor for her hard work in the water this year, and looks forward to the youngster carrying the torch for Costa Rican women both here and around the world.

“Nataly has become a different girl after she went to Huntington (California) and surfed against the really good girls in the World Cup,” Ureña said. “She is a contest machine. Same thing with Jairo (Pérez). It is a process we at the circuit created. They just want to win.”

The 16-year-old Pérez, meanwhile, topped off a wonderful year, placing third among the veterans in the Open finals, winning the 2006-07 Juniors’ championship and, just two weeks previously, representing his country well in Guatemala to become the Central American junior champion.

As the new national surf champion,Naranjo will continue to work with Ureña and the federation to help the new generation of Tico surfers improve their skills and carry the mantle of the country around the globe.

“My triumph represents the 15-plus years of effort I’ve dedicated to my love of the sport … I’ve had so many good moments that I’ve been able to give back to Costa Rica,”Naranjo said. “I still have a long way to go in the future and a lot more to give this country, because we have an enormous amount of talent in all the divisions.”



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