Race For The Billabong ISA World Team Trophy Commences In Panama
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The annual Billabong ISA World Surfing Games got underway today at Playa Venao's perfect three-to-five foot lefts and rights. The race for the Fernando Aguerre ISA World Team Trophy has begun with 27 countries in contention, which over the next six days will narrow down to only one champion of the premiere world team surfing event.
All of the 173 registered surfers in the Open Men, Open Women and Longboard divisions surfed today with qualifying round one action. A total of 48 heats were completed in a day full of action and emotion, in two simultaneous surfing venues, located 250 meters from each other.
Australia, Brazil, New Zealand and South Africa are the only countries that made it through the first day without losing any surfers into the repecharge heats. Defending Team Champion Peru, USA and France, all of them powerhouse surfing nations, had at least one surfer that will now surf the do-or-die heats in the repecharge rounds.
Llewellyn Whittaker (RSA) proved to be the standout performer of the day in the Open Men division. Employing a set of strong backhand moves, Whittaker achieved a combined score of 15.83 (7.17+8.67) to beat Magnum Martínez (VEN), David Godoy (PAN) and Luis Chamorro (NIC).
"Our team arrived five days before the contest, and we had a lot of time to practice on these waves," said Whittaker. "We are feeling very comfortable surfing here in Playa Venao. The level of competition is extremely high—you have the best surfers from every country at this event, but for those 20 minutes, you have to believe you will get through your heat."
Another victorious competitor in the Open Men division, Costa Rican Anthony Fillingim, surprised the local crowd with his powerful and innovative surfing. He beat Brazilian favorite Ian Gouveia by posting a combined score of 12.00 (6.00+6.00), leaving Jonathan Chila (ECU) and Erick Portillo (SAL) in third and fourth respectively.
"I felt I would win first place from the time I entered the water," said Fillingim. "Let's hope I keep doing this well in the following heats. My Brazilian friend is a great surfer, but as everybody saw, I finished in the lead. We feel at home here where we've performed excellently in past tournaments. If all goes well, we will all make it to the finals."
Other in-form surfers in the Open Men division displaying progressive surfing and winning their heats were Drew Courtney (AUS), Hugo Savalli (FRA), Michael Campbell (AUS), Martín Jerí (PER), Justin Mujica (VEN) and Chris Waring (USA).
In the day's second to last heat, a shocking victory by Uruguayan Marco Giorgi over 2009 ISA World Champion, Jeremy Flores from France, made the news on the beach. "I was excited, because I knew I was competing against Jeremy," said Giorgi. "I never had the pleasure of competing against him, and just competing against him is a sign that this championship is at an amazing level. Beating him, it's incredible."
Ecuador's Dominic Barona pulled off a huge upset in the Open Women division, outscoring South African star Tanika Hoffman by posting a combined total of 10.10 (6.50+3.60). Yocelin Aldana from Venezuela placed third in the heat.
"The heat was a little difficult because of the conditions. The tide was very high with very few waves, but I caught a couple and was able to win the heat," said Barona. "Now I'm very focused, and hopefully tomorrow the waves will be more favorable. Panama is amazing. People are very friendly, the weather has been great, the event is well organized and it is a living celebration of surfing. Now we all need to simply enjoy ourselves and do our best."
The best surfer of the division was Analí Gómez (PER) who scored 15.00 (9.00+6.00) to beat Lucía Cosoleto (ARG) and Sonia García (PAN). Other standouts in the divison were Sofía Mulanovich (PER), Nikita Robb (RSA), Silvana Lima (BRA), Jessi Miley-Dyer (AUS) and Alize Arnaud (FRA).
Tony Silvagni from the United States was undeniably the best longboarder of the day. After combining a repertoire of turns and stylish hang-fives, Silvagni scored an 8.33, backed up with a 7.33 to create the day's highest combined total (15.66).
"I was feeling really good and loose out there, caught a bunch of waves and my rhythm was pretty good," said Silvagni. "I love Venao, a beach break with peaks everywhere and the wave conditions are very suitable for all of us. We would love to win Gold. The USA won in 2009, and I was on the team. I would love to do better than I did in the final in 2009 and eventually win an individual Gold Medal too. That would be awesome."
Two-time ISA Longboard World Champion Matthew Moir (RSA), last year's Medalist Harley Ingleby (AUS), 2009 World Champion Antoine Delpero (FRA) and 2008 Medalist Taylor Jensen (USA) were other highlights in the Longboard division, winning their heats and making it to the Main Event Round 2.
Watch the event LIVE WEBCAST beginning at 8:00 a.m. (local time), 6:00 a.m. (US PDT), 9:00 a.m. (US EDT) and 11:00 p.m. (Australian EST).