All photos by Jimmy Wilson

The wisdom of the Duct Tape Invitational founder and surfing legend Joel Tudor is not to be trifled with. From his selection of invitees this go-round--an international gaggle of fresh faced newbies and an eclectic mix of DTI veterans--to the decision not to run opening round heats in sub-optimal surf yesterday, the 41-year old's prescience has been on full display here in Zarautz.

As the competitors made their way to Karlos Arguiñano beachfront restaurant to fuel up on espresso and croissants this morning, they were greeted by the sight of shoulder to head-high rights and lefts brought in by a fresh long period swell. It was the best conditions, by far, that they'd seen over the course of the event. The Duct Tape Invitational contest was a go.

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The opening round heats were stacked with new talent. The kids--a group that included Frenchman Nathan Sadoun (19), Californian Zack Flores (17), Floridian Saxon Wilson (17), and Nico Garcia (14)--impressed with enlightened approaches and composure in the heavy, vexing surf. But the "old guys"--Duct Tape veterans like Justin Quintal, Alex Knost, Tyler Warren, and Ryan Burch--pretty much ruled the early rounds, dispensing all of the young guns, save Kai Takayama, before the semis.

Both semifinal heats were hotly contested. Multifarious surfer-shapers Tyler Warren and Ryan Burch (“the most well-rounded surfer in the world,” according to Tudor) finished one and two in the first semifinal heat, gliding their way through with style on their respective handshapes.

Tyler Warren

The second semifinal heat, meanwhile, could have gone a multitude of ways. At newly 33-years old, Californian Alex Knost might be the Duct Tape's elder statesman, but he looked spry and limber bending into cheater fives and banging out switch stance redirects in truly precarious situations. Meanwhile, Floridian Justin Quintal--who has won more Duct Tape Invitationals than any other competitor--did pretty much what he's always done; clinical drop knee turns and endless amounts of levitation on some of the best waves of the afternoon.

Alas, Quintal's textbook approach--and really everyone else's talents for that matter--were overshadowed by the frenetic creativity of SanO's Andy Nieblas, whose fin-first theatrics and switch-stance wizardry turned the volume of semifinal #2 up to 10, with the crowd responding in kind.

Duct Tape Invitational winner Andy Nieblas

Nieblas cranked it even louder in the final, and was ultimately too hot for the rest of the competitors in the all-California-final to handle. It would take a champagne shower, compliments of his fellow finalists Warren, Burch and Knost to finally cool young Nieblas down. If the five liter bottle of wine–handed to Nieblas by event MC and Basque legend Mikel Urigoitia–is any indication, the volume may be turned up higher, yet.

We’ll have more great content from this weekend’s Vans Duct Tape Festival in the coming weeks. But for highlights of today’s action, check out the gallery above. 

Zaruatz, Spanish Basque Country