Proving there's strength in numbers, Team Australia has taken the gold medal at the 2013 International Surfing Association (ISA) World Junior Surfing Championships. While the Hawaiian team captured three out of the four individual gold medals, the depth of the Aussies proved to be too much to handle and their team accumulated enough points over the course of the event to take top honors.
"This has been an epic week here in Nicaragua; there were so many good surfers, and to bring the gold home for Australia, I'm absolutely over the moon," said Jake Wilcox, who won the Under 16 gold for the Australians. It was the only individual gold the lucky country would win.
For Hawaii's part in it, Josh Moniz won the Under 18 Boys, Tatiana Weston-Webb won the Under 18 Girls and Mahina Maeda took the Under 16 Girls.
"It was a battle from beginning to end," said Moniz. "Unfortunately we didn't come away with team gold, but we had a great contest and Tatiana and Mahina were ripping."
Rounding out the podium was the mainland U.S. squad in third and the French in fourth.
"It's amazing to see all of the talent that's here," noted U.S. coach Ryan Simmons. "Our goal was to come here and put together a strong campaign for the gold. It didn't quite happen, but I couldn't be more proud of our kids. They went up against the best junior surfers in the world, held their own, and the future looks very, very bright."
"Other contests are all about individual performance and you're in it for yourself, but this is different," said Santa Barbara, Calif.'s Parker Coffin, who cites his goal as someday graduating to the ASP World Tour. "We're all here to represent our country and make them proud. Flag waving, cheering on the beach, rallying around our friends: You don't find that at your typical contests. It's great; being part of a team and representing your country means so much."
Held at the playful and consistent beach break of Rancho Santana, in the eight days of competition the surf never dropped below shoulder high and the wind blew straight offshore every day. The poorest country in Central America, Nicaragua's banking on their valuable surf resources as a means to transform the region into an international surf destination, attracting tourists, contests and a cottage industry. Before the event got underway, ISA President Fernando Aguerre met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to discuss the future of surfing in the country.
"It is becoming more well known here," explained President Ortega. "It's becoming more popular, and I would say now, with this event, we will have greater projections; there will be a greater understanding of what this sport that has great strength, tenacity and demands a lot of discipline of the boys and girls and older adults who practice it."
"It's the first time that a delegation in this level from Nicaragua is able to join this competition," added Ortega, "and that is a historical fact and I congratulate these boys and girls."
With nearly 300 surfers representing 30 countries, the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships is the biggest event for the under-18-year-old set and very much proves that surfing isn't just about hanging loose at the beach. Today there are an estimated 35 million surfers worldwide, and be it well-established countries like Australia and the United States, or emerging regions like Italy, Jamaica or Russia, competitive surfing is something that's very much being taken seriously.
"It's not just about who wins," said Aguerre. "Of course that's important, but we are spreading surfing around the world, and that can be extremely transformative. Surfing is a sport of peace; it brings people together. It brings countries together. That has to be the ultimate goal. The world doesn't need more war, and in its own small way, surfing can help be a part of that."