Australia may have won the gold last weekend at the International Surfing Association World Surfing Games in Costa da Caparica, Portugal, but Costa Rica was arguably the star of the eight days of rigorous competition that began with 233 surfers from 29 countries.
At the conclusion, three of the top 10 surfers in their divisions were from Costa Rica: Jason Torres and Luis Vindas were fifth and sixth respectively in the open category and Nataly Bernold placed sixth in the women’s category. All three reside in the central Pacific beach town of Jacó.
If that weren’t enough, the Tico team ranked an overall fifth, up three spots from its eighth overall position at the last games in 2006 in Huntington Beach, California, and took a third-place bronze medal in the Aloha Cup tag team event, up from a fourth-place copper two years ago.
“The Tico team has become one of the great surprises in the history of the World Surfing Games,” said International Surfing Association (ISA) President Fernando Aguerre. “This year, they are really at the top level of the world. We are very happy that the effort of the (Surf Federation of Costa Rica) has been fruitful.”
It was a point of mild frustration for the Ticos when they learned at the closing ceremonies that only one point separated them in the rankings from the fourth-place French team, which scored 11,819 to the Ticos’ 11,818. The top three teams were Australia with 17,238 points, the United States with 14,284 and Brazil with 12,610.
The Costa Rican team, without a doubt, was a juggernaut in Portugal, with three of its surfers making it to the last day of competition, two of them in the main event, the open finals.
Indeed, both Vindas and Bernold – who, at 15, was the youngest surfer in the games – made it to Sunday’s finals without losing a single heat. Torres, for his part, pulled off a triple threat Saturday by advancing three heats to round nine – the finals – of the second-chance repercharge series.
But Sunday’s two-foot surf gave trouble to all three Ticos, who, unable to find waves, lost in the finals, resulting in their fifth- and sixth-place finishes.
Torres said he barely felt that final loss once the rankings were released and he found himself at No. 5 in the world.
“I feel really happy … I’m numb, maybe I’ll feel something when I get off the plane in Costa Rica,” Torres said. “Now I feel like a team guy with our coming in fifth. The way we would meet each night, the way we prayed together. Everybody supported me. I was never doubtful.”
Thanks to Costa Rica’s eighth-place ranking in 2006, the Ticos qualified to participate in the Aloha Cup, an ISA initiative that is part of the World Surfing Games and uses a unique team format in which the results of the heats and a tag team contest all contribute to the final team scores. Costa Rica managed to advance in the semifinal among surf powers such as Brazil and the United States. Once in the finals, the Ticos held onto a first-place position until the last five minutes before losing to France and Portugal for a third-place finish.
With a great Tico performance and an official presentation at the ISA general meeting, the Surf Federation of Costa Rica, led by president José Ureña, took the opportunity in Portugal to set the stage for the next World Surfing Games, set to take place in August in Playa Hermosa, just south of Jacó, where the federation hopes to host the best surfers from 50 countries around the world.
“All you heard in Portugal was how good Costa Rica was surfing and how good it’s going to be next year in Costa Rica,” Ureña said.