Now I'm not saying we're looking at Ivan Drago versus Rocky Balboa here, but down at the ISA World Junior Championships in Jiquiliste Beach, Nicaragua, for the first time in the history of surfing, the Russians have sent a junior surfer to a major international championship. Nikita Avdeev sits dead last in the rankings, but it remains a dramatic step forward in the ongoing internationalization of the sport.
"This has been a very good experience, to come here to Nicaragua, to meet so many great surfers, I feel very lucky to be here representing Russia," said 12-year-old Avdeev, who hails from Ekatirinburg.
Meanwhile the usual suspects -- Australia, Hawaii, the U.S. and Brazil -- are entrenched in their typical back and forth. Halfway into the contest the Australians sit first, followed by Hawaii, the U.S. and France, respectively. But it's a long road to the final, which takes place on Sunday, June 16, and it's still up in the air.
"We've had some ups and downs," said Micah Byrne, one of the coaches of the American team. "We're fighting through it, and we still have all but one of our kids going, so we'll see."
The Americans, Parker Coffin, Cam Richards and Griffin Colapinto, have all stood out in the superb Central American conditions. With offshore winds a constant and the surf never dropping below four-foot, one would be hard pressed to find a more inviting venue.
This is the second year in a row that the ISA has brought a championship back to Nicaragua, and as the emerging surf nation continues to evolve, they have seized on the opportunity to demonstrate that their country is deserving of international recognition and very much capable of hosting a primetime surf contest. Put it this way, it puts the slop the ASP World Tour's Billabong Rio Pro was forced to finish in to shame.
Last year was the biggest event in Nicaragua since an international billiards championships in 1989. "Now they know that they can do it, and wonderful things are in store for the future, I think. Latin American surfing is really taking hold," notes ISA President Fernando Aguerre.
This year, the scale of the event has grown considerably. With over 300 competitors from 30 countries entered, it's as much a cultural exchange as it is a surf contest.
"I sat down with President Daniel Ortega in Managua and we talked," continued Aguerre. "He sees what we're doing, how we're bringing people from all over the world together here in Nicaragua, and he understands. He is really starting to support surfing."
In a few days, success for the surfers in the contest will come in the form of ISA gold medals. But that's only part of it. From Russians and Turks, to Jamaicans and Nicaraguans, the sport of surfing is healthy and thriving. Back in the United States the "surf industry" is going through a dramatic restructuring. Magazine titles are merging, Billabong's stock price hovers around 20 cents a share, and Quiksilver continues to bleed employees and athletes, but as is evident here in Nicaragua, the spirit and passion for surfing only grows stronger.