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Costa Rica surf squad will bring out its brightest stars for World Surfing Games

Costa Rica’s very best surfers will be back to defend their world title next month in their home waters. The Costa Rica Surf Federation announced its star-studded roster Wednesday ahead of the World Surfing Games that begin Aug. 6 at Playa Jacó.

Mainstays Carlos “Cali” Muñoz, Anthony Fillingim, Noe Mar McGonagle and his sister Leilani McGonagle are holdovers from last year’s championship squad. The final two spots (one male, one female) that were up for grabs have been filled with up-and-coming talents Tomás King and Emily Gussoni.

King, who’s from Tamarindo, will fill in for Jason Torres in the fourth men’s spot, while 16-year-old Emily Gussoni has won a spot over veteran Lisbeth Vindas for the women after an impressive season. Twelve-time national champion Vindas will be an alternate this year after helping Costa Rica win the 2015 title, while four-time national champion Gilbert Brown from Puerto Viejo is on hold for the men.

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Head Coach Wade Sharp said at Wednesday’s news conference that King and Gussoni earned the final two roster spots because of their outstanding performances in the 2016 national circuit, which ended last weekend. He said there was a two-month preselection process in which he and Surf Federation members closely watched surfers in events and training sessions to whittle down the list to the six athletes currently performing at the highest levels.

“It’s not an easy job,” Sharp said. “We could fill two or three teams from Costa Rica, but we only have the chance to fill one.”

Here are the athletes who will represent Costa Rica at the 2016 International Surf Association (ISA) World Surfing Games:

Anthony Fillingim

Age: 22

Hometown: Santa Teresa

The current national champion and former Latin American title-holder is again set to represent Costa Rica at the ISA World Surfing Games. Fillingim is fresh off a record-breaking season on the domestic circuit, where he clinched the title a month before the season ended after finishing first place in four of the first six major events. There is probably no surfer in the entire bracket that is entering this tournament with as much momentum as Fillingim, who could be poised for a huge showing.

On a larger scale, Fillingim has clearly established himself as one of the pillars of Costa Rica’s golden generation of surfers – alongside Muñoz and the McGonagles – and has proven himself more than deserving to compete again in the World Games.

Emily Gussoni

Age: 16

Hometown: Puntarenas

Following her breakout year on the Costa Rican circuit in 2016, where she finished second overall to champ Leilani McGonagle, the wunderkid is ready to show her talents on the big stage. On top of her accomplishments in Tico waters this season, Gussoni continues to rise up the international ranks of the World Surf League’s qualifying series, where surfers compete to be among the top 10 allowed on the Championship Tour. In June, Gussoni finished in the top 10 of the Los Cabos Open of Surf event in Mexico.

Much like Fillingim, this young rider from Puntarenas is entering the World Games with a full head of steam and should be one to watch in Jacó.

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Tomás King

Age: 20

Hometown: Tamarindo

King debuts on the national team after an impressive year at the national and international level. The Tamarindo kid may be an unknown for casual followers of the Costa Rican surf scene, but he’s clearly in the upper echelon of surfing talents in the country.

As the 2016 Guanacaste Circuit champion, the 20-year-old rider has proven his worth in tournament settings.

Leilani McGonagle

Age: 16

Hometown: Pavones

The newly crowned queen of surf in Costa Rica, McGonagle was a key part of last year’s world champion team. McGonagle finished second overall last year in the open women’s final and figures to be one of the favorites to land on the podium in Jacó. Despite focusing mainly on the national circuit in 2016, McGonagle still ranks relatively high in the World Surf League’s women’s qualifying series. She finished second at the Ron Jon Vans Junior Pro event in March while up against the top 17-and-under female surfers in the world.

Noe Mar McGonagle is looking to repeat his gold medal performance from the 2015 ISA World Games.

(Courtesy of Jim Hogan)

Noe Mar McGonagle

Age: 20

Hometown: Pavones

The burly blonde was last year’s first place finisher in the World Surfing Games, where he helped Costa Rica get the gold with a stellar 9.93 ride (out of 10) in the finals.

Alongside little sister Leilani, the elder McGonagle will be expected to lead Costa Rica to a second straight title with his superb technique that’s highlighted by crisp turns and extraordinary control. McGonagle largely stayed out of the national circuit in 2016, concentrating mostly on international events. Despite finishing last year at 41st in the World Surf League’s qualifying ranks, the Pavones-born surf star has dipped to 87th in the standings so far this season.

Look for McGonagle to get back on track with another strong performance for his country in Jacó.

Carlos “Cali” Muñoz

Age: 23

Hometown: Esterillos Oeste

The bushy-haired, perpetually smiling Muñoz is already Costa Rica’s most accomplished surfer ever on the international circuit. With a flair for excitement in the waves that includes an arsenal of rotations and jumps, the bubbly kid they call “Cali” is a crowd favorite.

Muñoz is such a motivating personality both on and off the waves that ISA President Fernando Aguerre says he should be pope when he’s too old to surf. In the meantime, fans should worship the time they get to see the Tico star making magic happen in the water.

Contact Michael Krumholtz at mkrumholtz@ticotimes.net

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