Young Hawaiians Dax McGill and Kalani David Win Back-to-Back Gold Medals; Brazilian Matheus Navarro Narrowly Wins Gold Over Teammate Deivid Silva
There's quite a lot of Aloha spirit spreading through Panama at this time. In a thrilling final day of competition at the DAKINE ISA World Junior Surfing Championship Presented by Billabong, which was run in ultra-fun waves at the Playa Venao beachbreak, Team Hawaii won two of three individual Gold Medals and managed to win its first Team Gold Medal since 2005.
Two of the youngest Hawaiians on the team, 14-year-old Dax McGill (competing in Girls Under-18) and 14-year-old Kalani David (Boys Under-16) carried the Aloha State flag proudly as they were chaired up the beach by teammates after winning their respective divisions. Brazil's Matheus Navarro, one of the most dynamic, entertaining and innovative surfers of the event, won the Gold Medal in Boys Under-18.
Under sunny skies and with light onshore winds blowing, athletes from the 31 nations found a spot on the beach to watch the best 24 surfers remaining in the event on the last day of competition. Many wore their country colors and waved their nation's flags, even if they no longer had an athlete competing.
ISA President Fernando Aguerre was all over the event site, greeting athletes, speaking on the webcast, shaking hands with coaches and cheering for the top-level surfing happening in the water. When he wasn't on the sand, the ISA President was sharing conversations with the distinguished guests in attendance: Panama's President, Ricardo Martinelli; Salomon Shamah, the country's Minister of Tourism; and Ricardo Fabrega, the Minister of Government and one of the country's first surfers. President Martinelli spent much of the day watching from the judges tower and even made an appearance on the live webcast, both in English and Spanish, which was being viewed in 144 countries.
After eight days of competition featuring the best junior surfers in the largest and most important under-18 surfing event in the world, Hawaii's coach, Rainos Hayes, stood at the shoreline mid-day beside his other coaches. A flag pole leaned against his shoulder, and the red, white and blue of the Hawaiian flag waved in the onshore winds above him. All he could do was watch the action in the water and smile. And why wouldn't he? In the Girls division, which had begun the week with 81 athletes, three of the four surfers competing for a medal were representing Hawaii.
"We've had such a beautiful event, and there's a game going on here, and you do want to win, but that's kind of far from the focus right now. I'm very proud of all the girls," said Hayes, who's been coaching Team Hawaii for 17 years. "I told them to go play, go surf, show what you can do. In the end, if you've got to take a look at [tactical] situations, that's fine, but you girls need to go get on waves worth riding and really perform. You've earned everything that's come to you thus far."
Any nerves that may have been present for the Hawaiian trio of Mahina Maeda, Dax McGill and Tatiana Weston-Webb weren't noticeable. The three surfers spread across the lineup and caught wave after wave. A Hawaiian sweep wasn't a given, however, since the other competitor was the only undefeated surfer in the event, Ellie-Jean Coffey of Australia.
With a minute left in the heat, Coffey caught a mid-sized left and completed a series of top turns, and threw a claim when she completed the ride. The score moved her into the first position.
Seconds later, McGill – an ISA first-timer and the youngest surfer in the Final – found a left of her own and the first maneuver set the tone.
"I did that first hit and got super psyched, and saw two more sections coming up and I was like, 'let's whack this thing as hard as I've ever whacked something before!" McGill explained.
She rode the whitewater into the shore, where her Hawaiian teammates were already waiting. Four of the guys went diving into the water to meet her. When the 6.93 score was announced, she was hoisted onto their shoulders and given the champions chair ride all the way to the podium.
"I'm on top of world right now," said McGill, after the heat, the Hawaiian flag draped over her shoulders and a Cheshire cat grin stretching from freckled cheek to freckled cheek. "Thank you to everybody who's ever supported me. I'm so stoked right now! This is my first year doing ISA and I never thought I could ever make it this far, but I just did – I proved myself wrong."
Coffey ended up with the Silver Medal. McGill's teammates, Weston-Webb and Maeda, ended up with the Bronze and Copper Medals, respectively.
The Aloha pride continued in the next Final, with two more Hawaiians surfing for medals in the Boys Under-16 division.
In the last two days, Kalani David really began to display the array of aerial maneuvers that has made him one of the most talked-about surfers of his generation. Wave after wave, aerial after aerial he built the foundation of a Gold Medal-winning score (13.50).
"I woke up really sick this morning. I drank a lot of Vitamin C all morning and watched a lot of surf movies to get ready," David said. "I'm super stoked right now. It means the world to me to win the Gold Medal. Being in a contest with junior surfers from all around the world, it definitely is something I'll remember forever."
David's Gold Medal performance, along with Josh Moniz's Copper Medal solidified Team Hawaii's position atop the standings. Japan's Takumi Nakamura finished in second to win the Silver Medal, while Costa Rica's Noe Mar McGonagle won the Bronze.
In the final heat of the day and the eight-day event, the last celebration was reserved for Team Brazil. Fighting for position in the team standings, the Brazilians had two surfers aiming for Gold in Boys Under-18. It just so happened that the two surfers, Matheus Navarro and Deivid Silva, were among the most dynamic surfers in the event.
While Portugal's Vasco Ribeiro (Bronze Medal) and Australia's Joshua Hay (Copper Medal), put up a noble effort, the Final was an all-star performance by the two Brazilians, exchanging first and second position on several occasions. With the final minutes of the clock ticking away, the two had an exchange that represented the type of surfing they'd done all week. On a right-hand wave, Silva found speed in unexpected places, floating over multiple closeout sections before landing a backside reverse with no grab, for a 9.33.
A short while later, the regular-footed Navarro – who needed an 8.3 to catch Silva – found a long right and executed every maneuver he could think of. He mixed vertical snaps with polished, swooping turns and closed the wave with a two-hand first-pump. His excitement, and that of the Brazilian team – which went running down the beach toward Navarro – were justified. The judges awarded him an 8.43, which was just enough to move him into the Gold Medal position, with a two-wave total of 16.90. Silva finished in the Silver Medal spot with a 16.80.
"It was a really long week, I think I competed in over 10 heats and made it all the way to the final. I lost in the second round and fell to the Repechage, so it was really tough to face that. But one of the coaches told me that in this event in Portugal 2007, Jadson Andre had the same luck and ended up winning the Gold," said Navarro, who carried up the beach by his team as the new ISA World Junior Champion.
Following the final heat of the day, the festivities transitioned to the medal podium and the Closing Ceremony. Each of the four finalists received their medals, and it was announced that Hawaii had won the Team Gold. In the seven years since its last Team Gold, the Hawaiians had won Silver twice, Bronze twice and Copper twice. They were due.
With all 31 nations surrounding the stage, and photographers and videographers packing the press area, the ISA President shared some words expressing his overwhelming joy after a picture-perfect event.
"Surfing and the ISA love Panama. I want to thank the organizers of the event, Tuti de León and Patrick Castagnet. They have organized three wonderful events for the ISA in 20 months. [President Martinelli] has confirmed that he wants us back next year with one of the ISA major events, so we may meet each other again," Aguerre said. "Thank you so much everybody and I want to leave by saying something really important: some of you are going back home with a medal and others not, but each one of you are champions and this experience will remain in your hearts for the rest of your life."
The guest of honor of the final day confirmed Aguerre's words.
"I am thankful for having all of you here in Panama, and I am honored because I know that the President of the ISA accepted my invitation to do another event here next year," President Martinelli said. "Surfing in Panama is known all over the world for its beautiful beaches, waves and surfers, and above all we have a great heart to receive all the surfers from all over the world. I hope to see all of you next year."
Girls Under-18 Final
Gold: Dax McGill (HAW) – 12.60
Silver: Ellie Jean Coffey (AUS) – 9.20
Bronze: Tatiana W-Webb (HAW) – 8.53
Copper: Mahina Maeda (HAW) – 8.24
Boys Under-16 Final
Gold: Kalani David (HAW) – 13.50
Silver: Takumi Nakamura (JPN) – 13.40
Bronze: Noe Mar McGonagle (CRC) – 11.34
Copper: Josh Moniz (HAW) – 11.17
Boys Under-18 Final
Gold: Matheus Navarro (BRA) – 16.93
Silver: Deivid Silva (BRA) – 16.83
Bronze: Vasco Ribeiro (POR) – 11.77
Copper: Joshua Hay (AUS) – 11.37
Final ISA World Juniors Team Ranking
9. South Africa
10. New Zealand
11. Costa Rica
14. Great Britain
22. Puerto Rico
23. El Salvador
The DAKINE ISA World Junior Surfing Championship Presented by Billabong is made possible with the support of the following event partners: DAKINE, Billabong, Panamá, Super Deportes, Mini, Dollar Rent A Car, Copa Airlines, Extreme Surf & Sport. The media partners are Surfea Panama, FOX Sports, Surfersvillage and Surfos. The Official Forecaster for the event is Surfline.