The US team finished 19th at the 2004 ISA World Surfing Games — behind first-place Australia, Brazil, South Africa and even landlocked Swizterland. It was a colossal failure — the end of a long and hard fall from grace for a team that over its history has boasted of multiple championships and legendary members like Tom Curren, Kelly Slater and the Hobgoods. But the disaster this year was not unexpected. All of the US team members had to pay their own way to the non-prizemoney event and the two Bodyboarding members of the team failed to show. As the lone bright spot on the team, former ASP standout Julia Christian put it, “We’re so disorganized and I don’t even know half of the guys on the team.” Christian finished a solid second behind Sofia Mulonovich of Peru in the Open Women’s division of the event held in Salinas, Ecuador. But nobody else on the US team was even surfing on the final day.The dismal showing was proof positive that drastic change is needed. That change actually came at the onset of the event during the ISA’s biannual meeting. At the meeting, which, by all accounts was long, emotional and draining, the National Governing Body sanction was taken away from its 28-year steward, the USSF, and given to the upstart group called Surfing America by a vote of 14-7. Surfing America is led by former world champ, Peter Townend, and boasts of strong industry support from the trade group SIMA and the recent reunification of the major American amateur groups HASA, NSSA and ESA under the Surfing America banner. This last development was monumental in the history of amateur surfing because it marked the end of a longstanding feud between the rival directors of the NSSA and ESA, Janice Aragon and Kathy Phillips. Most everyone at the World Games agreed that the Surfing America’s proposal at the meeting was impressive. Surfing America offered to host the 2005 World Juniors and the 2006 World Games as a show of good faith. They also planned to model themselves after the wildly successful group Surfing Australia and initiate well-funded training programs along with a systematic selection process. Mal Gregson, VP of Surfing Australia, said he is confident that Surfing America is up to the task. “This group can make the US a superpower again in surfing and that’s a good thing for everyone,” said Gregson.

But not all of the teams did a victory dance after the historic meeting. An NGB sanction has never been removed in this way and some saw it as a dangerous precedent. The final vote was taken on a secret ballot and most countries would not reveal how they voted after it was over. But many of the representatives interviewed for this article expressed some resentment that Surfing America had gotten the ISA involved in taking away the sanction from the USSF. “They should have settled this at home,” said Billy Wilmot, the father of Jamaican surfing. “They way it was handled, making us do the dirty work, made me lose my respect for American surfing.”Making a difficult situation even more painful is the fact that the President of the USSF, Paul West, was ironically named a VP of the ISA — meaning he’ll be working with the people who effectively fired him. West acknowledged that he was disappointed by the loss of the NGB, but almost seemed relieved to no longer be the chief whipping boy for the decline of American team surfing. “I’m not a politician; I’m a surfer, a competitor and a people person,” he said. “I’ve seen Phillips and Aragon fight for twenty years. Let’s see if they can actually make this work.” But all of the backroom debating could not take away from the overall joyousness of the event itself. The ISA World Games are a welcome throwback to the time when contests were less about big money and more about sportsmanship and fun. None of the competitors won any cash, but that didn’t stop surfers like Flavio Padaratz, who lost a close Open Men’s final to the white hot Tahitian, Hira Terinotoofa. Padaratz, coming out of recent retirement just for this event, surfed with the same passion as he would in a WCT final and hobbled up the beach after suffering a severe leg cramp on his last wave. The actual competition, though, seemed to take a back seat to the nutty spectacle of the South American event. Legions of Ecuadorian Army soldiers provided the security under a blazing Equatorial sun, making for a scene that was like a cross between the OP Pro and “Black Hawk Down.” The fun left-point waves at the site were head-high to solidly overhead all week. Attendance was also strong throughout as was local commercial and governmental support from the small country. A national TV station provided six hours of live coverage per day and the indefagatible contest announcer somehow was able to provide rapid fire commentary to the crowd in four different languages simultaneously. The scene at night along the Malecon in Salinas was even more loco. Thousands of beautiful teenage girls were strutting up and down the waterfront engaging in sexually charged “staring contests” with competitors. It was common to see five or six nubile lovelies gathered around a single competitor, hanging on his every word of broken Spanish.

Underneath the fun and fiesta, however, lurked a darker side to the contest. There were tons of rip-offs and the Mexican team’s bus was hijacked by gun toting robbers on the way to the event.But on the final day, Contest Director and ISA President Fernando Aguerre, a seemingly nuclear powerful ball of energy, was nothing less than ecstatic about the way the event turned out. “There is nothing like this contest in the world,” said Aguerre. “In every other event the guys go home when they lose, but here they stay and root for their teams.” Aguerre was also supremely confident that the decision to give Surfing America the NGB status was the right one. “For the last few years surfing on the US team has meant nothing to Americans,” he said. “Now it will mean everything.”— Jamie Tierney2004 ISA World Surfing Games
Salinas, Ecuador
Results Men's Surfing
1. Hira Teriinatoofa (Tahiti)
2. Flavio 'Teco' Padaratz (Brazil)
3. Mark Richardson (Australia)
3. Sean Holmes (South Africa)
Women's Surfing
1. Sofia Mulanovich (Peru)
2. Julia Christian (USA)
3. Andrea Lopes (Brazil)
4. Sheridan Shields (Australia)
Longboard Surfing
1. Marcelo Freitas (Brazil)
2. Jason Ribbink (South Africa)
3. Joshua Constable (Australia)
4. Antoine Delpero (France)
Men's Bodyboarding
1. Andrew Lester (Australia)
2. Yeray Martinez (Spain)
3. Alvaro Padron (Spain)
4. Nicolas Capdeville (France)
Women's Bodyboarding
1. Kira Llewellyn (Australia)
2. Neymara Carvalho (Brazil)
3. Marina Taylor (Spain)
4. Claire McGowan (UK)
ISA Trophee
1. Australia
2. Spain
3. South Africa
4. New Zealand
ISA World Champion Nation
1. Australia16 554
2. Brazil14 282
3. South Africa13 257
4. Peru13 160
5. Tahiti11 931
6. Spain11 080
7. France11 060
8. Venezuela 9 {{{760}}}
9. Costa Rica 9 742
10. United Kingdom 9 215
11. Ecuador 9 013
12. Argentina 8 695
13. New Zealand 8 433
14. Mexico 7 748
15. Barbados 6 840
16. Japan 6 630
17. Switzerland 6 185
18. Ireland 5 819
19. USA 5 345
20. Italy 5 066
21. Jamaica 3 840
22. Panama 2 843
23. Sweden 2 598
24. Guatemala 2 256
25. Chile 1 560
26. Canada 855