After the biggest and most successful pro surfing event ever seen in Wales, BPSA sponsors Headworx are celebrating yet another landmark in their support for British surfing. This year’s Headworx Welsh Open was the sixth consecutive Headworx-sponsored pro event that has graced the shores of the UK – and it went down a storm with action, nail-biting drama and some insane surfing from the BPSA pros!
After two days of great surf, Headworx’ own up-and-coming British surfer Matt Capel triumphed against a strong field of Brits, Europeans and Internationals in an event that has gone from strength to strength. With ever-growing interest in Wales’ only pro surfing event, competitors were turned away in all divisions from Mens Open to the newly introduced Under 12 Grommets. With hundreds of locals and travelling surfers from far and wide turning out to watch the action in consistent 4ft offshore surf, the 2006 event produced some of the best surfing ever seen at any UK event with the top pros battling it out for the now coveted Headworx Welsh Open title and £3000 prize money.
Timed to coincide with the optimum swell, weather and water conditions, the Welsh BPSA event has become known by surfers as the “Riders Choice” leg of the 8-stop BPSA UK Tour. Once again, Mother Nature delivered in style, with a powerful long-period hurricane swell crossing the North Atlantic to be met by perfect offshore winds. Saturday and Sunday greeted the competitors with punchy A-frame beach-break waves – the perfect platform for them to show their skills – and their enthusiasm was evident as soon as competition got underway.
Set within the National Trust-protected Freshwater West Conservation Area, the Headworx Welsh Open takes place on one of the most remote and beautiful beaches in the country, and once again the clear weather provided a stunning backdrop to the impressive action in the water.
“It’s definitely a big highlight for the pro surfers in the British contest calendar” says BPSA Director Dave Reed. “This event has a reputation of really bringing out the best in our home-grown talent, and five of the six annual winners of this event have gone on to win the UK tour.”
This information is very welcome by an already delighted Matt Capel, who is bidding to continue his winning streak and become the first ever surfer to claim both the Open and Pro Junior tour titles of the BPSA in the same season: “I’m so stoked with the win”, says Matt who is now preparing for this weekend’s British National Championships.
“I’ve made three Open finals so far this year and I’ve just let myself down at the last hurdle each time. This time around, I felt relaxed and focused – and just more in control. I tried to concentrate on my own surfing rather than watching the guys around me. I caught a good set wave with two minutes to go and managed to get three or four good turns in and then I hit the lip hard on the inside section. I knew it was going to be tight, but when the scores came through the other Newquay boys on the beach were going wild and I knew I had done it. It felt amazing to walk out the water as winner!”
Matt’s win delighted his sponsors Headworx, who had five team surfers competing in the 32-strong Open division including reigning BPSA Tour Champion Reubin Pearce and former 4x British Junior Champion Johnny Fryer. All of them reached the quarter-finals, with Capel knocking out his high-profile team-mate Pearce in a thrilling semi-final. New recruit Fabian Baker from Jersey had a spectacular Welsh debut finishing 4th in the Pro Junior and reaching the quarter-finals of the Open at the tender age of 18 years.
This year, an increased financial investment in the BPSA from the sponsors allowed increased prize money in the Ladies Open as well as the introduction of U16 boys, U16 girls and U12’s to the event by Headworx. Freerange Sports Optics continued their support of the BPSA Tour with the Style Move of the Day prize of £250 which was won by popular international surfer Micah Lester.
In the water, the excitement came thick and fast right through the divisions, with visiting South African surfer Dave Richards taking out the Headworx Pro Junior final on Saturday with a magnificent right-hander that earned him an unbeatable 10-point wave score. Despite some good scores, other finalists Matt Capel, and Fabian Baker could not find the waves to match him. In the Grommets divisions, the younger competitors showed tremendous skill and courage in the heavy 4ft low tide conditions with Harry Timson emerging victorious in the U12’s, Aiden Wright in the U16 Boys and Gwen Spurlock in the U16 Girls.
On Sunday, the Women’s division demonstrated the huge step forward that female surfing has made since its introduction to the Headworx Welsh Open in 2003, with last year’s winner Nicole Morgan and Irish Champion Easkey Britton setting the pace against some excellent surfing from the local Welsh contingent of Gwen Spurlock and Beth Mason. Easkey eventually triumphed in a close final with two long right-handers to earn the Headworx/Outer Reef Womens Welsh Open title.
Longboarding was introduced to the Welsh Open by Headworx last year, and Welsh Junior Champion Nick Dowrick showed that the future is bright. Nick combined carving turns with some classic noseriding and big close-out manoeuvres in Sunday’s final to take the 2nd Headworx Welsh Open Pro Longboard title.
But it was the Mens Open shortboarding that truly captivated the audience on Sunday. Tour leader Reubin Pearce was enjoying some of his best surfing this season in the early rounds and looked like he would be hard to beat. Reubs pushed his fins out on every vertical turn and continually smashed every right-hander all the way to the sand on his backhand. Meanwhile, the other side of the draw saw Toby Atkins and Matt Capel surfing exceptionally well, reaching the semi-finals comfortably with some critical, progressive and truly ‘new-school’ surfing.
Powerhouses Sam Lamiroy and Lew Whittaker were thoroughly enjoying the punchy waves, throwing heaps of spray at every opportunity to impress the judges, and Micah Lester scored maximum respect with three barrel-rides in one heat as he advanced to the quarters in style. It looked like any of these guys could take the crown from Mark Harris, last year’s winner. But Harris was determined to fight and took out his semi-final with two big forehand rights that set him up for the final. At the death, Matt Capel snatched 2nd place from fellow Headworx rider Reubin Pearce with less than a point to spare in a gripping first semi-final. Sam and Lew emerged from an equally exciting 2nd semi to set up a final that included two former tour winners (Lamiroy and Harris), an established pro (Whittaker) and the young pretender (Capel).
In the Mens final, the lead continually changed hands between Egor Harris and Sam Lamiroy, as each of the surfers took a set wave and bashed it to the inside. But 20-year-old Capel was staying in touch with a good 6-point first ride and just needed another to be in with a shout. With 18 of the 20 minutes gone, he paddled back out to be met by a peaking right. With the other three surfers paddling for position, he swung round, took off and hit four consecutive vertical turns to the inside, landing a big close-out floater on the final section. Enough to claim the Headworx Welsh Open 2006 title and a cold shower of Fosters lager on the beach as he emerged to huge cheers from the crowd. Arguably the most popular Welsh Open win yet for the rider voted “Surfers’ Surfer of the Year” in 2005.
“It was fantastic to return to Pembrokeshire this year,” concluded Headworx’ marketing manager, Ben Byfield, “Headworx has always enjoyed a particularly strong brand presence in Wales and Fresh West always produces the goods for our annual ‘Riders Choice’ event. It was a real pleasure to be there to witness the exceptional standard of British surfing that has developed so much since our first event there in 2001. Headworx are stoked for Matt who truly deserved this win, and we are delighted to be able to support this event. We are already looking forward to next year!”