The Billabong Pro Series Hits Central America

THE JOURNEY IS THE REWARD
Central America, A Gringo’s Perspective.

By Steve Zeldin

One of the things I look forward to the most as a freelance surf journalist is getting invited on surf trips with companies throwing an event somewhere. Anywhere! In March Billabong USA hosted the Central American Series 2001. On the menu, The Billabong Pro Panama, and The Billabong Pro Costa Rica. The scene was happening with surfers coming from Argentina, Brazil, California, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, Florida, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, South Africa plus a few Europeans. The mellow, good-time party vibe far outweighed the competitive side of things, while the “Bong” put on fun, well run events offering 50 G’s in prize dough up for grabs. Superstar Donavon Frankenreiter was along to surf and work on a video and his rock band Sunchild also made the trip on behalf of Billabong. And what a trip it was:

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I was excited to bust out the rusty Spanglish. After flying all night to Panama City from Los Angeles, then another six hours by taxi to Playa Venao, we arrived at the guesthouse Billabong rented from a Panamanian family for their team riders, band, and media. I dropped my stuff on an empty bed and hitched a ride with some locals and two Sunchild girlfriends I’d been with (well, not BEEN with…) since L.A. They couldn’t wait to see their men once we arrived at the beach, where they were about to perform in front a messy,drunken crowd. I instantly found the Laguna Beach crew from home, they were all holding six packs and talking to very young girls. It was almost dark and there was a big, Bong sponsored party in the empty dirt lot behind the beach. A DJ was blaring disco-reggae, local kids were drunk and pogo-ing, chorizo sizzled on makeshift grills, chickens pecked around the perimeter of the camping area, several vendors sold beer and Cubra Libres, and bikini-necklace-pipe proprietors wheeled and dealed their wares in the shadows… A Latin American version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed, followed by Sunchild with Tom Curren as guest drummer and guitarist. Sunchild is like Guns N’ Roses mixed with the Doobie Brothers and the local surfers were stoked to see Donavon jamming for them. It’s great talking to surfers and girls from other countries, and the more I drank the better Iwas able to communicate in Spanish. Funny, that… The dark beach was specked with partiers, smokers, drunken new acquaintances and other couples seeking passion in the warm, tranquillo noche. The rockstars pulled me into the bus that was waiting for them to return to the guesthouse. The Panamanian driver looked drunk. The late night ride back to the house was long and bumpy. I slept like a one-year old for the next 12 hours. After a breakfast of papaya, coffee and toast with scary homemade cheese, we got back on the bus to Playa Venao. En route there was a gnarly head-on collision and the two cars were locked together, blocking the road. In a third-world environment on a hot, desolate road, this was a gnarly predicament.

A local girl ran up and put a “Panama” beaded bracelet on Californian surfer James Pribram after he won his heat. Guess what that means? The waves were decent, workable beachbreak lefts and rights, water-quality questionable, and the sun hot. Now here’s the real story: Panamanian citizen Tom Curren pulled his old magic in the form of a long-left barrel (the only tube of the event) and get this: came out after five full seconds and actually claimed it! The first time I’ve ever seen anything like that from the former three-time world champ. Tom’s Panamanian wife Maki ran into the water to greet her winning man and the crowd went nuts, yet allowed the couple to move quickly through the scorching black volcanic sand. Classic were the words he shared from the winners podium (in Spanish, of course), thanking the people of Panama and the waves and the event. Imagine the stoke of the local surfers a community to have such a victory, especially on Easter Sunday. Tom is cool and poetic as ever is his thoughts and his surfing and the fact that he was in Panama competing made the contest a completely different scene. Most surfers who get older lose that one extra burst of speed that Tom (almost 37 years old) still has. He surfs so smooth it’s hard to tell how radical he still is.You can’t even judge by watchinghim, you’ve gotta watch his board. The world’s most mysterious surfer still milks every wave to the sand with that magical never-ending pact he’s made with the wave gods. This was his first win in almost five years.

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Also in the winners circle was Venezuelan Magnum Martinez who surfed with extra smooth style with great timing, and had the win until Curren’s last minute tube; New Jersey’s Matt Keenan, who took out lots of good guys with patient wave selection; And Florida’s Cam Anderson, who was throwing tail and surfing with authority. Hawai’i's Keala Kennely ripped her way into first place for the women. Young Californian Julia Christian also made a big impression. Other standouts were Venezuela’s quick-footed Ronald Reyes, and the Mexican “Occy” Raul Noyola, whose power snaps helped his team beat Curren, Pribram and the Americans in the teams heat. Seven-time Panamanianchampion Gary Saavedra ripped but went down in the semis. Local ripper and events commentator Juan “Haole” Munoz kept the crowd rolling with his unique brand of bilingual observations and wit. Plus he introduced me to Nathalie the cutest, ripping Venezuelan surfer girl ever… Okay, now back to the fun… While the smoke cleared, I snuck off with Donavon and some boys from the band to trespass through a local family’s yard to surf a secret cove a few miles away. Back at the house after cold, sunburn-relieving showers we feasted on garlic grouper and calamari mixed with plantains, pineapple, rice, and pounded lots of beers before the midnight-hour bus mission- actually a 17-hour overnight border crossing-hellride to Costa Rica for the next event. Of course when you have happy pills, guitars, beers, chocolate, and hot-blooded Latinos all singing and having a good time, the ride doesn’t seem so bad… Except the part about the drunk, sleepy bus driver. About an hour into the drive, around the same time the pills started kicking in, we hit a large dog, but it wasimmediately announced as a “box” instead to keep the women aboard from freaking out. There was a stop for junk food, then everyone tried to get comfortable in the bus seats or on the floor. The details after that get kind of blurry.

We arrived early morning at the Costa Rican “Paso Canoas” border, about an hour from the longest left in Central America, “Pavonnes.” The stop at the border was prolonged until the officials were paid their bribe money in lieu of searching all our shit. Eight more hours in the bus till we lunched in Quepos, a fishing port close to the Manuel Antonio Forest , known for monkey-filled hikes through rainforests and various white-sand beaches. Afew more hours and Playa Hermosa, just south of Jaco, was ours for the week. Known for year-round consistent surf from south swells (though the best secret spot favors a south-west), and crocodiles in the rivermouths at spots like Boca Barranca just north. The event site at the south end of Hermosa, a sandy beachbreak capable of 10 wave close-out sets in the double-overhead range, was pumping when we arrived. All the surfers got off the bus atChino’s Surf Safari, (which ended up being thee place to eat in Hermosa.) The Bong crew, an ESPN TV crew, and I pulled in to a giant mansion on the beach right at the contest venue in Hermosa which had the largest, sexiest swimming pool I’ve ever seen. Supposedly the place was “haunted” according to locals, who refused to elaborate but suggested that things will “hopefully become legalized down there.” What the f-k was THAT supposed tomean? I pictured, crazy porno-bondage sex and drug parties and bloodlettings and ghosts and chickens wearing Brazilian-cut swimsuits. If you coulda just seen this house…

‘Pura Vida” is a phrase used often in Costa Rica and is the equivalent of throwing someone a “shaka.” After a whole evening of vida not so pura (drinking, etc…) I left the nightlife of nearby Jaco Beach in a taxi around five a.m. one morning and was stopped on the dark, dirt road that led to the “haunted” Bong house. Keala was sitting in a passing car, cringingwith pain. Her appendix burst and she was en route to the nearest hospital with some of the crew. The next day she had the appendix removed in what the locals referred to as a “sketchy” hospital (Puntarenas). She wasn’t able to compete in the event but left a day after the surgery for the DJ convention in Miami. Keala always charges.

Playing guitar with big “Moot” was a treat. The happy Hawai’ian was part of the ESPN film crew- you may know him as Vice President of the Hui O’ He’e Nalu. He can jam on a guitar or a ukelele and has an amazing, angelic voice for such a big, scary looking buggah. Moot discovered a ‘Da Hui’ clothing bootlegger, actually a former Hui sales rep from Florida now living in C.R. who was knocking off the Hawai’ian brand. The offender was calmly explained the organization’s policies regarding past and future royalty payments.Don’t mess with Da Hui, eh?…

Tom Curren’s comeback to the world of competitive surfing is once again a potential reality, he says he wants to do it. Unfortunately the naturally gifted freak couldn’t make the C.R. event as some Oz events conflicted with his scheduling… The first few days of the event at Playa Hermosa saw some great waves and great surfing. On Saturday night there was a big party on the beach with Reggae bands, Sunchild, and DJ’s… Around two a.m. I woke upfrom a midnight siesta on the beach and trance music was blaring from the contest-turned-party zone. A well known Venezuelan surfer was causing some rhythmic ripples to form in the huge dark pool at the ‘Bong house. I staggered toward the music to see a few hundred locals still raging in the bug infested night: drinking, smoking cigarettes and eatingquestionable-looking chicken from a lone, late night vendor.

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The locals say the waves get good here, but rarely as good as they were for this event.Finals were held in solid six-foot beachbreak for both the men and the women, surf consist, current pulling, sun blinding… Over 100 degrees in the sun by noon. When the smoke cleared, first place went to goofy-footer Raul Noyola from Puerto Escondido, Mexico, after catching the longest waves and completing the highest number of maneuvers, earning him a cool four grand, and setting a record as the first Mexican surfer ever to win an ASPevent. American Mike Hoisington surfed well and took second and two g’s. Matt Keenan made the final with good wave selection an the only tube ride. Asher Nolan is surfing at ‘CT level, had some really high scoring waves, and took third place and $1,500 Bong dollars, plus second place in a nighttime competition, which was hosted by a local hotel in town. It was small but fun with a DJ and party-like atmosphere and mostly local C.R. surfers. It was hard as hell to see the waves which may have been the reason the judgesmistakenly gave local guy Alvaro Solano first place, from what I heard… after ten watery beers I passed out around midnight, before the late-night final.

The girls were impressive, especially Julia Christian from San Diego, CA. The young natural-footer took the $2K win with G-land style bottom turns and Gavin Beschen style carves. Clogged ears caused Californian James Pribram to lose it on the beach in Hermosa earlier that day as his altered equilibrium caused him to faint on the beach as he exited the water from a freesurf. He claimed it was from the water in Panama and was taking athere.” What the f-k was THAT supposed tomean? I pictured, crazy porno-bondage sex and drug parties and bloodlettings and ghosts and chickens wearing Brazilian-cut swimsuits. If you coulda just seen this house…

‘Pura Vida” is a phrase used often in Costa Rica and is the equivalent of throwing someone a “shaka.” After a whole evening of vida not so pura (drinking, etc…) I left the nightlife of nearby Jaco Beach in a taxi around five a.m. one morning and was stopped on the dark, dirt road that led to the “haunted” Bong house. Keala was sitting in a passing car, cringingwith pain. Her appendix burst and she was en route to the nearest hospital with some of the crew. The next day she had the appendix removed in what the locals referred to as a “sketchy” hospital (Puntarenas). She wasn’t able to compete in the event but left a day after the surgery for the DJ convention in Miami. Keala always charges.

Playing guitar with big “Moot” was a treat. The happy Hawai’ian was part of the ESPN film crew- you may know him as Vice President of the Hui O’ He’e Nalu. He can jam on a guitar or a ukelele and has an amazing, angelic voice for such a big, scary looking buggah. Moot discovered a ‘Da Hui’ clothing bootlegger, actually a former Hui sales rep from Florida now living in C.R. who was knocking off the Hawai’ian brand. The offender was calmly explained the organization’s policies regarding past and future royalty payments.Don’t mess with Da Hui, eh?…

Tom Curren’s comeback to the world of competitive surfing is once again a potential reality, he says he wants to do it. Unfortunately the naturally gifted freak couldn’t make the C.R. event as some Oz events conflicted with his scheduling… The first few days of the event at Playa Hermosa saw some great waves and great surfing. On Saturday night there was a big party on the beach with Reggae bands, Sunchild, and DJ’s… Around two a.m. I woke upfrom a midnight siesta on the beach and trance music was blaring from the contest-turned-party zone. A well known Venezuelan surfer was causing some rhythmic ripples to form in the huge dark pool at the ‘Bong house. I staggered toward the music to see a few hundred locals still raging in the bug infested night: drinking, smoking cigarettes and eatingquestionable-looking chicken from a lone, late night vendor.

[IMAGE 3]

The locals say the waves get good here, but rarely as good as they were for this event.Finals were held in solid six-foot beachbreak for both the men and the women, surf consist, current pulling, sun blinding… Over 100 degrees in the sun by noon. When the smoke cleared, first place went to goofy-footer Raul Noyola from Puerto Escondido, Mexico, after catching the longest waves and completing the highest number of maneuvers, earning him a cool four grand, and setting a record as the first Mexican surfer ever to win an ASPevent. American Mike Hoisington surfed well and took second and two g’s. Matt Keenan made the final with good wave selection an the only tube ride. Asher Nolan is surfing at ‘CT level, had some really high scoring waves, and took third place and $1,500 Bong dollars, plus second place in a nighttime competition, which was hosted by a local hotel in town. It was small but fun with a DJ and party-like atmosphere and mostly local C.R. surfers. It was hard as hell to see the waves which may have been the reason the judgesmistakenly gave local guy Alvaro Solano first place, from what I heard… after ten watery beers I passed out around midnight, before the late-night final.

The girls were impressive, especially Julia Christian from San Diego, CA. The young natural-footer took the $2K win with G-land style bottom turns and Gavin Beschen style carves. Clogged ears caused Californian James Pribram to lose it on the beach in Hermosa earlier that day as his altered equilibrium caused him to faint on the beach as he exited the water from a freesurf. He claimed it was from the water in Panama and was taking antibiotics. I think he just got a bad piece of ass and didn’t know it. Panamanian champ Gary Saavedra surfs well and knows how to make people smile with his infectious vibe.

Over a dinner of foot-long Red Snappers at Chino’s, Panama’s Juan Munoz explained how boil and eat an iguana, after chopping off the head, tail and legs. Peru’s finest surfer and Billabong distributor Magoo De La Rosa shared great stories about the surf in Northern Peru and the many surfers who come to his country and never see those waves but instead get stuck in Lima city life, on the wrong type of mission… Magoo had the best tube of the event in Costa Rica, and is a cool surfer to know if you ever get to South America…

That night the Busses were loaded up and departed back to Panama City, all 17 hours of it. I managed to miss the bus by purchasing a one way ticket home and spending a few more days at a little secret surf cove we discovered. To top off a great coupla’ weeks in the sun and surf, I hiked to the highest waterfall in all of Costa Rica, between Jaco Beach and San Jose. I wasn1t looking for answers or anything special, but hey you gotta go to the mountain top every once in a while, just for the hell of it…ng antibiotics. I think he just got a bad piece of ass and didn’t know it. Panamanian champ Gary Saavedra surfs well and knows how to make people smile with his infectious vibe.

Over a dinner of foot-long Red Snappers at Chino’s, Panama’s Juan Munoz explained how boil and eat an iguana, after chopping off the head, tail and legs. Peru’s finest surfer and Billabong distributor Magoo De La Rosa shared great stories about the surf in Northern Peru and the many surfers who come to his country and never see those waves but instead get stuck in Lima city life, on the wrong type of mission… Magoo had the best tube of the event in Costa Rica, and is a cool surfer to know if you ever get to South America…

That night the Busses were loaded up and departed back to Panama City, all 17 hours of it. I managed to miss the bus by purchasing a one way ticket home and spending a few more days at a little secret surf cove we discovered. To top off a great coupla’ weeks in the sun and surf, I hiked to the highest waterfall in all of Costa Rica, between Jaco Beach and San Jose. I wasn1t looking for answers or anything special, but hey you gotta go to the mountain top every once in a while, just for the hell of it…