If Costa Rica’s professional surf scene had an A-team, it would look something like this: Carlos Muñoz, Jair Pérez, Noe Mar McGonagle, Gilbert Brown, Anthony Fillingim, Luis Vindas, Leilani McGonagle, Lisbeth Vindas, and Nataly Bernold. The nine top surfers seem to shuffle places between being national champions and taking the top five slots at any given competition, with the odd interloper upsetting the order.
Heading into Costa Rica’s 13th annual Grand Final Reef National Surf Championships, set for July 26, 27 and 28 at Playa Hermosa by Jacó, it’s the A-team all the way.
Costa Rica’s top surfers will contest the national champion title in seven categories: Open Division (ages 18 and up) for Men and Women, Juniors (under 18) for Men and Women, Longboard, Boys (ages 15 and under), and “Minigrometts” or young surfers (boys ages 12 and under).
In the Men’s Open division, Jair Pérez of Jacó leads the pack. Pérez is fresh from winning the Olympus Tough Cup – the seventh competition of the National Olympus Circuit – in Playa Esterillos Oeste on 22-23 June. Now ranked No. 1 in overall points for 2013, Pérez took fourth place in the 2012 Championships and third in 2011.
Following closely is Noe Mar McGonagle, 17, of Pavones who currently is in second place in the Men’s Open. Noe Mar is one of the country’s hottest upcoming young surfers. He is out in front for the Men’s Junior category with a whopping 10,080 overall points, far above second place León Glatzer (6,751 points). However, Glatzer just won first place for Junior Men in the Olympus Tough Cup, and could repeat the performance.
Noe Mar and his sister, Leilani McGonagle, competed last month with the Costa Rican Juniors team in the 2013 DAKINE International Surfing Association World Junior Surfing Championship in Nicaragua. Costa Rica came in 11th place in the June 8-16 contest.
Further in the Men’s rankings, 2011 National Surf Champion, Luis Vindas of Jacó, is a close third, followed by Ramón Taliani of Santa Teresa in fourth place, and 2012 National Surf Champion, Gilbert Brown of Limon, now in fifth place.
Last year’s Men’s National Champion title was the most closely contested battle in Costa Rica Surfing Federation history, with seven top surfers vying for number one. This year’s matchup is more evenly spaced, although there is always room for a surprise.
In the Women’s division, 13-year-old upstart Emily Gussoni is making a bid for both the Women’s Open and Women’s Junior titles. The young Jacó surfer just won first place in both of those categories in the Olympus Tough Cup a few weeks ago. Gussoni is currently ranked third overall for the 2013 season, and second in Juniors. The rising star placed second in 2012 and third in 2011 in Women’s Juniors.
Leilani McGonagle is ranked No. 1 in both the Women’s Open and Women’s Junior categories. She matches her brother, Noe Mar, with 10,080 points in the Junior’s division, and tallies 9,075 points in the Women’s Open. However, nine-time national surfing champion, Lisbeth Vindas, is not far behind with 8,520 points for the Women’s Open. The top Jacó surfer is on a quest for her 10th championship this year. The 2012 Women’s National Surfing Champion, Nataly Bernold, finds herself in fifth place this year. Winner of three national titles, Bernold was solid in second place at the beginning of the season; but after missing the fourth, fifth and sixth national competitions, she is low on points.
Though he is one of Costa Rica’s top surfers, Carlos Muñoz, of Playa Esterillos Oeste, won’t be competing in the national surf finals. The world-ranked surfer (95th by the Association of Surfing Professionals) is too busy competing internationally. Muñoz just scored the latest cover of Surfing Magazine with a photo of one of his trademark aerial moves off the lip of a huge wave in Mexico.
Surfing begins at 7:00 a.m. all three days (July 26, 27 & 28) for the Grand Final Reef National Surf Championships in front of the Backyard Hotel at Playa Hermosa by Jacó.
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By Shannon Farley