Team SA ‘s great start at World Surfing Games in Panama

Nikita Robb cuts back powerfully on her way to victory in her Round 1 heat at the 2011 Billabong ISA World Surfing Games in Panama on Sunday

 Team South Africa had a great start on the opening day of the annual 2011 Billabong ISA World Surfing Games saw tricky one metre waves at Playa Venao on the Pacific Ocean coast of Panama on Sunday.

 173 registered surfers in the Open Men, Women and Longboard divisions competed in a full day of action at two surfing venues located 250 metres apart.  And SA Team captain Llewellyn Whittaker posted the highest heat tally in the Open Men’s division and the eight team members finished 1st or 2ndi n their opening encounters to advance to Round 2 of the qualifying stream.

The 173 registered surfers in the Open Men, Women and Longboard divisions competed in a full day of action at two surfing venues located 250 metres apart. Whittaker, from Southern Cape, registered scores of 7.17 and an excellent 8.67, both out of 10, for a heat total of 15.84 out 0f 20, leaving his three opponents, including multiple South America champion Magnum Martinez (VEN), needing to improve on both their counting rides to overtake him

 .“Our team arrived five days before the contest, and we had a lot of time to practice on these waves,” says Whittaker. “We are feeling very comfortable surfing here in Playa Venao. The level of competition is extremely high – you have the best surfers from every country at this event – but for those 20 minutes you have to believe you will get through your heat.”

The balance of SA’s men’s Open Men’s squad each finished second to Venezuelan opponents in their Round 1 match-ups with Gavin Roberts (SKZN) just four hundredths of a point behind Francisco Bellorin, Matt Bromley (WP) less than half a point short of Rafael Pereira and Klee Strachan (SKZN) just over a point adrift of Justin Mujica. Former World Tour campaigner Nikita Robb (Border) posted the second highest heat tally – 14.67 – of the Open Women’s division to easily win her match-up and progress to Round 2 while teammate Tanika Hoffman (WP) was less than a point behind heat winner Dominic Barona from Ecuador and over four points ahead of the third placed competitor.

Team SA’s two longboard surfers, two-time ISA World Champion Matthew Moir and fellow WP competitor Justin Bing, both racked up comprehensive Round 1 victories with Moir’s 15.06 point heat total second only to the 15.66 awarded to Tony Silvagni (AUS) in the longboard division. The 2011 Billabong ISA World Surfing Games runs until Saturday July 2 and all the action will be webcast live at starting at 8am (3pm South African time) daily. Schedule for Monday 27 June: Podium 1 (will be webcast live) Open Men Qualifying Round 2 (SA’s Whittaker, Bromley, Strachan & Roberts) Longboard Qualifying Round 2 (SA’s Moir & Bing) Open Men Qualifying Round 3 (TBC) Podium 2 (will have scores online) Women Qualifying Round 2 (SA’s Robb & Hoffman) Open Men Repecharge Round 1 Longboard Repecharge Round 1 Women Repecharge Round 1

The 2011 Billabong ISA World Surfing Games were officially opened on Saturday when nearly 275 competitors and officials from the 27 national teams participated in the Parade of Nations through the streets of nearby Pedasi showing their country’s colours and cultural traditions. Thousands of locals lined the streets to welcome the athletes in traditional handcrafted dresses and headdresses adorned with gold jewellery as a sign of joy, celebration, love and respect.

As the entire entourage gathered at the stage in the town’s main plaza, the traditional ISA Sands of the World Ceremony began. Representatives from every National Team brought sand from their country’s beaches up to the stage, where they were mixed together in a glass bowl. The perennial ritual signifies the union of nations, beliefs and races through surfing and the Olympic spirit this event embraces.

The official opening of the event was made by Panamanian Tourism Department Minister, Salomón Shamah who said, “On behalf of the ISA and its President, Fernando Aguerre, it is my pleasure and greatest honour to declare this 2011 Billabong ISA World Surfing Games officially open!”

The preparation, training and travel costs for the South African team were made possible by a grant from Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA). Skullcandy and Power Balance added their support to the team. Surfing South Africa (SSA) is recognised by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), Sport and Recreation South Africa (SRSA) and the International Surfing Association (ISA) as the governing body for the sport in South Africa. The International Surfing Association (ISA) is recognised by the International Olympic Committee and is the governing body for World Surfing.