Jackson Obando, Team Nicaragua's last man standing, just lost his win-or-go-home heat. Minutes earlier, the 15-year-old got barreled twice on a long left, easily one of the best rides of the day. But it came seconds after the final horn sounded.
The host country of the 2013 World Junior Surfing Championship is now out of the running for the 2013 crown. But for a team whose members learned to surf though unconventional means, and the fact that this was Nicaragua's first surf team, 20th place (out of 30) looks pretty good.
Damn good, actually.
While team members from Brazil, USA and Australia grew up with multiple surfboards and ample opportunities for training, coaches and contests, the Nicaraguans didn't. Most were given boards from travelers who either didn't want to pay the hefty baggage fee or wanted to help the children. Either way, a few received boards and learned on their own.
Besides Jackson, this was the first surf contest for team members. "A lot of the guys told me that they could have surfed a lot better," said coach Sean Pierson, "but they were so nervous with the crowd on the beach." Despite the country's terrific waves, uncrowded lineups and consistent offshore wind, "there's not that much of an opportunity to surf contests here," said Pierson.
It looked like nerves played a role in Jackson's heat as well. Which is understandable, considering the attention he received throughout the week. Despite the pressure, he showed the country — and the world — a lot this week. His air game. His power. His humility. Speaking with him on the porch of the team's rented house, he thanked God for heat wins, consistent surf and quality boards. He is part of a bright future of surfing in Nicaragua.
Jackson paddled in from his defeat with his head down. But the second he touched sand and looked up, a crowd of 100 locals were waiting for him. Cheering "Jax-son. Jax-son Jax-son." Waving the Nicaraguan flag. And everyone wanted a piece of him. Mothers with cameras, young girls with signs and older men with proud smiles. Even a few policemen on guard had found their way near the crowd. The chants spread from the beach to cameras, steaming to outlets across Nicaragua. The entire country now knows the chant: "Jax-son, Jax-son, Jax-son…" —Cash Lambert