French on Fire at Billabong World Games
With a building swell, and a huge crowd that was even bigger than yesterday, the pressure to perform was ratcheted up a notch today at the Billabong ISA World Surfing Games fueled by Monster Energy.
South Africa, which looked dominant 24 hours ago, struggled to stay in the top echelon. Australia, the reigning champs had only one win with several team members sent to the repercharge heats. France, who shared a perfect record of all six heat wins yesterday with the Americans, had to step up their game to continue their run at the title. While still maintaining a formidable record of 4 wins and a 2nd today, French ASP contender Mickey Picon was sent to the repercharge and Jeremy Flores was pushed into a 2nd place result by red hot local Costa Rican Jason Torres. Flores squeaked through to advance on a last minute deep tube ride that was as lucky as it was amazing. Hawaii's Joel Centeio got the first legitimate barrel ride of the day early in the first heat of the morning, and Hawaii's stellar team is looking strong. But when Venezuela, Austria, Brazil, Hawaii, Argentina, New Zealand and Puerto Rico all post wins today, nobody is feeling indominatable. Even the USA, who continued their march up the ladder remaining five for six, was quiet. “We are not making any claims here," said a subdued Ian Cairns. ‘We can celebrate if we get to the finals."
On the Women's side, it is still very much anyone's game at this point. Both French girls won their heats convincingly, but an Italian, Costa Rican, Japanese and Peruvian won their heat against big teams.
“We are thrilled to be here and still in the running," said Japanese surfer Nao Oomura, who won her heat against Chile and Tahiti. “It is something magic."
Even in the Open division there is a sense that Cinderella moments are waiting to be had. CR local Jason Torres was on fire, besting two ASP circuit pros, Hawaii's Ray Powers and Frenchman Jeremy Flores while clocking the highest scores of the day. Costa Rica had two big wins and two seconds today looking to be a contender until the end of the event. Local CR surfer Gilbert Brown's win was easily the crowd favorite earlier in the day bringing standing ovations and a flurry of flag waving in a typically flamboyant performance.
Meanwhile, 500 yards down the beach at the south judge's podium, the contestants were struggling just to stay in the contest as the first round of the repercharge elimination went into effect. Although it included all the surfers that didn't manage to qualify yesterday, the performance level was the highest of the competition so far. Gary Saavedra a 13 time Panamanian National Champion was a clear example. After losing badly yesterday, he scored one of the highest combined point tallies of the event today, a 17.00 of possible 20.00.
"Yesterday I did not find my rhythm, but today I was determined to break the curse." said Saavedra. “I began with a seven point wave, then got an eight and felt calm. Then, knowing that I was in first, I waited it out for a good wave, and it came. It was one of the biggest and it allowed me to do two strong maneuvers for a nine."
That could be the story of this contest because with chargers like Saavedra, this event is far from predictable.
The contest will be web LIVE everyday at www.BillabongISAWorldGames.com