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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Caribbean surf competition inspires, awes

From the print edition

By Lucas Iturriza |  Special to The Tico Times

Last Saturday began calmly on the southern Caribbean coast. A deep blue sky stretched from the blue sea, its color broken only by the green of palm trees and lush flora along the coast. Early in the morning – about 8 a.m. – spectators began arriving at Cocles Beach to set an ideal backdrop for another installment of the classic Puerto Viejo Open Pro surf competition. 

This time, Beachbreak was the perfect scene for the surf celebration, where the southern Caribbean community said, “presente,” along with Costa Ricans from across the country and travelers from around the world. 

Alberto Torres, founder and organizer of the competition, remembers the very first Open Pro – as the competition is known in the Caribbean – seven years ago. 

“To think that all this started over a bowl of rondón [a regional fish soup cooked in coconut milk] on the beach. We were all local surfers back then. Look at it now,” he said, casually scanning the crowd of spectators gathered for the event. More than 1,000 people attended throughout the day.

“It’s really gratifying to be able to hold the Open Pro, which is an opportunity to showcase our talented local surfers,” he said. 

And everyone turned out. From the home turf there was Gilbert Brown, a local legend and Caribbean surf champion, along with his brother, Ronald, who won the competition for a fourth time. They were joined by Kemba, Jordan Hernández, his father, the legendary “Topo,” and grommets Noe Mejía and Brian Aráoz, along with many other promising Caribbean Costa Rican surfers. Big names like Leo Calvo, Luis Vindas, Dani Bishko, Jason Torres, Maikol Torres, Juan Carlos Hernández, Giancarlo Méndez and Ariel Gutiérrez were also present.

During this second of four competitions of the Puerto Viejo Open Pro circuit, known as the Kolbi Cup, Ronald Brown was the winner after a tight finish, while Luis Vindas – the current national champion – placed second, with Jordan Hernández taking third place after winning the first competition, and young surfer Leo Calvo placing fourth overall and first among the grommets. Following them at the podium were Juan Carlos Hernández, Bryan Arauz and Noé Mejía. Winners received a total of $1,000 cash and $1,000 in sponsor prizes.

The big waves didn’t show up this time around, providing for a day of classic cutbacks, roundhouses and few aerial maneuvers. 

“I’m proud of the big showing of high-level surfers who crossed the country to participate in this circuit,” Torres said. “It’s a competition that is really growing, and little by little it’s helping to attain the goal of promoting this area as a destination of harmony, sport and health. At the same time, it serves as a platform to expose regional surfing to future generations, because it’s very difficult financially for local surfers to go to other places to show their talent.” 

The circuit is recognized by the Costa Rican Surf Federation, which will hold the second date of the national surf circuit in Puerto Viejo next year after several years away from the Caribbean coast. 

Saturday was a celebration, with a pounding sun that forced many spectators to seek shelter under the palm trees. Families spent the day with their children enjoying the activities. Tourists happened to be at the right place at the right time. 

Katy, a 22-year-old Canadian traveler was one of them. “A friend and I arrived in Puerto [Viejo] last night. Over breakfast we learned about the competition and couldn’t believe it,” she said with a broad smile. “This is the first surf competition I’ve ever seen, and it’s marvelous. They say there’s a party tonight. It doesn’t get any better than this.” 

In the afternoon, San José’s Hands Pro took over the main stage and put on an excellent show. Following the competition, as the sun began to set, DJ P ushered in nighttime festivities at Lazy Mon, followed by a provocative belly-dancing show by two talented local performers. 

Later, Toledo delighted fans with his catchy reggaeton and rap. Then, the party moved to Johnny’s Place for a fashion show by local brand Luna May and an awards ceremony. As expected, a massive party ended out the night.

Ronald Brown, prophet in his own land

Ronald Brown was born 24 years ago in Limón, and by 10 he was already surfing. Shortly after picking up a board, he decided surfing would become his lifestyle and his job. His brother, Gilbert, helped him along by taking him to the Pacific coast, where he could practice, show off his talent and get noticed. From there, he started traveling the world representing Costa Rica in the sub-18 category, where he found plenty of competition.

Having already won four Open Pro competitions, Brown said he is satisfied: “There’s a lot of talent in the Caribbean, but the Pacific is where you have to be [if you’re a surfer]. That’s where the perseverance is, along with the brands and the sponsors. But not everyone has the resources to live or travel there. That’s why this circuit is so good. It provides more opportunities and experience for local youth, and instead of using drugs, they can take part in a sport,” he said. 

“That’s why it’s important to support this event and see it as something positive. The Open Pro is evolving. It’s attracting top surfers, champions, and that’s what’s going to make Caribbean surfing grow. The competition, the stress, it challenges you to always be at your best. 

“Waves are great in the Caribbean when they’re up. On a good day, they’re world-class. Salsa Brava and Beachbreak are incredible. The Pacific is more constant, but the power and the quality tubes are here,” Brown said, adding that, “Salsa Brava is one of the best waves in Central America. Everyone’s left flesh and teeth there.”

Brown is also aware that becoming a professional requires a lot of sacrifice. “You have to be dedicated and determined, and it takes a lot of discipline. You work, compete and take your job seriously, and you have to want it and go for it. You have to eat well and train a lot, just like any other sport. You have to exercise and stay hydrated,” he said. 

With his talent and hard work, Brown doesn’t forget whom he owes his talent to: “The basis of everything is God Almighty. I profoundly believe that. My entire life I have only surfed, and practically without doing anything I’ve had all of these opportunities. Who else could have made that happen?”


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