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Powerhouse Costa Rican surf squad heads north to World Championships

Another Costa Rican Dream Team is about to step into the spotlight.

Every year, Costa Rica sends its best surfers to compete in the International Surf Association (ISA) World Surfing Games, which are the Olympics of the sport. 2015 is special, however: Costa Rica will be represented by a lineup including  international superstar Carlos Muñoz from Esterillos, Latin American champion Anthony Fillingim from Santa Teresa, and four-time world medalist Leilani McGonagle from Pavones.

Rounding out the lineup are Noe Mar McGonagle from Pavones, already ranked 16th in the world by the ISA; Jason Torres from Jacó, who is currently #1 in this year’s Circuito Nacional kolbi and Costa Rica’s first surfing gold medalist, as a Junior in the the PanAmerican Games 2006; and Lisbeth Vindas from Jacó, the 11-time national women’s champion.

These six athletes will head to Playa Popoyo, Nicaragua from May 31-June 7 for the 2015 ISA World Surfing Games, where they will meet 150 athletes from more than 25 countries to vie for the coveted gold medal.

At last year’s championships, held in Puntas Rocas, Peru, the Costa Rica National Surf Team placed 4th in the championships last year, their best showing since they began participation in 2004. Fillingim demonstrated outstanding individual skills at that meeting, earning his own silver medal for placing 2nd in the Men’s Open.

Muñoz and McGonagle are joining the national team from their competitions on the Qualifying Series (QS) of the World Surf League. Last year, Muñoz — a former national surf champion who set many winning records while competing on the Circuito Nacional — made history when he finished the QS at #26 out of 959 international surfers, just 16 short of the necessary Top 10 placement which would have sent him to the World Championship Tour.  This year McGonagle is already #12 on the QS, breaking Muñoz’s record. However, Muñoz is looking good too, at #16 on that ranking.

His star surfing power will contribute significantly to the goals of the Costa Rica team in Nicaragua.

“My whole deal is to go with the team and try to get everyone to work together as a group. We have more experience on this team than ever before,” Muñoz told The Tico Times before leaving on the trip. “Our goal is to win the gold and then get the support from our government, which would then support the new guys coming up in this country.  I’m super excited to do this, do the right thing. This is for the new generation of Costa Rican surfers.“

His mention of government support referred to the recent offer by the ISA to bring the World Surfing Games back to Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Surf Federation claimed that it did not have enough money to support the contest, despite the fact that when Costa Rica hosted the event in Playa Hermosa in 2009, an estimated 70,000 people attended, generating approximately $2.5 million for the Costa Rican economy.

On hand to help the team towards the gold is Coach Wade Sharp, who previously worked with world champion Jordy Smith of South Africa.

“The goal will be to win the World Championship,” Wade said. “That was the goal that drew me and all the athletes who will represent Costa Rica in Nicaragua. I really feel very grateful to the [Costa Rican ] Surf Federation for giving me the reins of this team that many countries would dream of having.”

While the competition itself begins on June 1, all of the surf teams will march down the Nicaraguan streets to the opening ceremony the day prior. Here they will contribute sand from their beaches to a glass case; Costa Rica will give sand from Santa Teresa.  Over the years, ISA President Fernando Aguerre has explained that the mixing of the world’s sands represents the idea that all surfers are one together.

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