This week the black sands of Playa Jiquiliste in Nicaragua host the world's premiere melting pot of surfing — the 2013 International Surfing Association (ISA) Junior Championship — and the area is overflowing with 300 competitors from over 30 countries, each with its own traditions.
Team France wears berets on the beach. Team Nicaragua uses a rugged stick — instead of a polished piece of wood — to hold their team flag. Team America looks like a pack of lost hipsters.
Other than dressing as natives for the opening ceremony, Team Hawaii doesn't have an object or piece of clothing that sets them apart. And they don't need theatrics. The reigning champs of the 2012 ISA Junior Championship in Playa Venao, Panama are already known as the team to beat.
While Rainos Hayes' Hawaiian team faces pressure from the media, public and logistical details, the coach isn't feeling it. Neither is Dax McGill, attempting to defend her 2012 ISA World Junior Champion crown (under-16 girls), or Seth Moniz, the team's top surfer in the under-16 boys. The crew is loose and confident. And with their talent pool, they should be.
"You have to embrace the outside things going on, and realize that you can't control everything," said Hayes. "Once you do that, and know that the only thing you can do as a surfer is just your job, the pressure is immediately off."
Attempting back-to-back world titles, the team is packed with experience with guys like Kain Daily and Koa Smith (under 18 boys), both choosing to return for a final year, and have rookie talent in Imaikalani DeVault, Kaulana Apo and Elijah Gates. Australia and Brazil, keeping with their surfing powerhouse notions, serve as their biggest competitors.
Although confident, Hayes isn't gauging success entirely from results. Instead, he's basing it from safety, health and growth for each individual surfer, a refreshing change in America's competitive culture. "People on the outside looking in don't realize how big this is — that parents are entrusting us with their children in a third world country," he said. "It's not your average surf trip. And I'll be satisfied when I can get them back to their parents safely."
Perhaps with a trophy, too.
Gotta work for it. Team Hawaii training at home.