June 9th 2003 (O’Neill Europe) A traditional Maldivian ceremony this morning welcomed the 174 WQS (World Qualifying Series) surfers to the 3rd O’Neill Deep Blue Open. Dancers and musicians joined dignitaries from the Maldivian Tourist Board and members of the MSA (Maldivian Surfing Association) to extend their warmest of welcomes to the travelling surfers, ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) officials and assembled media on the island of Lohifushi. As the tropical morning sun beat down and with the swell at the left hand break of Lohi’s increasing, a colourful and vibrant ceremony opened the 2003 O’Neill Deep Blue Open. By midday the first round heats of the contest were paddling out and with excellent 2-meter conditions on offer, the event steamrolled through to the primary heats of round 2 as the sun set over the palm fringed islands,
The welcoming ceremony was presented by local Asian TV legend Ms. Rageshwary Loomba, and drew a huge crowd from across the Atolls to welcome the worlds top WQS surfers to the islands. The ceremony began with a traditional dance and song written especially for the Deep Blue Open by Meyna Hussai and was followed by speeches of acceptance and thanks. The visiting surfers were presented with a Kodi, a hand woven gift normally reserved for Islamic festivals and royalty, as a gesture of respect and friendship.
The Maldives Minister for Tourism, the Honourable Hassan Sobir, greeted and welcomed the temporary islanders to the event.
“Welcome to the Maldives and welcome to the sunny side of life. Surfing and the O’Neill Deep Blue Open contest has strengthened the Maldives and we are very fortunate to be able to host this event for the third time. We are very thankful that you have chosen to return and we would like to express our gratitude for such wonderful support.
Deep Blue Contest director Matt Wilson from ASP Australia welcomed all visiting dignitaries to the event and praised the hard work of the MSA, thanking them for their continued support and involvement in the Deep Blue Open.
“Its an honour to be back here Said Matt. “We have a record field of 176 surfers making the trip this year. It’s a really big field and a really positive move for this event and for professional surfing in the Maldives…We had such an amazing event last year and I think everyone heard about the waves we had and thought they would like to get some themselves this year!
“Of course most of this wouldn’t be possible without all the hard work all the guys at the MSA , I’d like to especially them. he added.
Bernhard Ritzer sponsoring manager from O’Neill Europe thanked all involved in the sucess of the Deep Blue Open, extending his deepest gratitude to the Maldivians for their continued and overwhelming support since the first event 2 years ago.
“We love coming here, flying in and seeing the beautiful islands, surfing such amazing waves and receiving such warm hospitality each year. I like to thank everyone here at Lohifushi, the MSA and of course the Maldivian Government and Tourism board for all your support. It’s the ultimate destination for the contest and an amazing place to spend some time. He said. “The waves are here, the weather’s beautiful so lets start the contest and enjoy the week. He added.
The O’Neill Deep Blue contest kicked off just after midday will a pumping 2 meter swell gracing the left hander of Lohifushi. In Heat 1 Brazillian Danylo Grillo set the standard for the early heats with a simply awesome 9.5 score for his second wave. Casually spotting and pulling into the first tube of the contest, Grillo vanished behind the crystal curtain as the wave careered down the line emerging 7 seconds later to the recgnition roar of the crowd congregated at Lohi’s bar.
“I’m stoked! It was a really good way to start my contest. I was pretty lucky. I found a really good wave, saw that it was hollow so just pulled in and wow! Just couldn’t believe how good it was. Felt like II was in there for ages and when I shot out I was just so stoked. I’ve been here twice before. I just really enjoy it here in the Maldives.
Also charging through to round two was local Maldivian wildcard Ibu Muhummod. With local knowledge and snappy cutbacks, Ibu advanced.
“I feel great, this is like a dream for me to advance. The heat went well, I thing I was lucky with the waves I took off on. Just wished I could have got a barrel like Danylo. I really never thought about it but to get through a round at such a big event is just amazing. He said.
As the afternoon progressed the contest sped through and while the first two surfers in each heat booked their place in tomorrows event, half of the afternoons entrants were checking out of the Deep Blue Open for another year. Ensuring his spot in the latter rounds was South African Daniel Redman who disposed of fellow countryman Noel Rahme and relegated Hawaii’s TJ Barron to second place in heat 8.
“It was quite a good heat, I was a bit nervous at the beginning there because I was late and the other two guys had already paddled out while I had to run back to get my board. But after the first two waves I relaxed and it was kind of fun…this is my first time out here in the Maldives. It’s just an amazing place to have a contest. Said Redman.
Heat 1 of the second round wrapped up the days competition. The 25-minute heat quickly became a closely called duel between Ryan Ragan (USA) and Danylo Grillo (Brz). Ragan eventually emerged on top with Grillo second. Both surfers progress to round 3.
“I blew my eardrum on my first day our here so throughout the heat I couldn’t tell if I was in first or fourth position. Said Ragan. “I kind of thought I was surfing pretty well so am stoked to get through. This is my third time out here, the trips really fun and the waves are good so I’m happy.
With day one wrapped up contest director Matt Wilson summed up the first days action.
“We’ve had a really good start to the contest. With the longer event program and the increase in the numbers of surfers making the trip we’ve had to get started straight away…When the tide turned and the wind eased off we saw some great conditions out there and some great surfing in the first round. He said.
The swell forecast for the tomorrow is looking promising for the remaining heats of Round 2. An even brighter outlook is predicted for the end of the week when a sizeable pulse is expected to adorn the formidable Maldivian reefs.