It was always anticipated that the 2018 Arica Cultura Bodyboard would present its own challenges to all riders…and a new competition format added its particular flavor to the event!

Riders in the top 24 of the APB rankings, riders advancing from the Arica trials event and wild card entrants, would make up the 32 entrants in the main competition.

As Alex Leon, APB World Tour CEO, explained: “The 32 athletes will all surf in 3 heats over 3 rounds of 4-man heats. Each athlete will need to aim to post 3 of their highest wave scores possible over the 3 rounds. At the end of the 3rd round, each of the 32 riders’ 3 highest-scoring rides are totalled and ranked. The top 16 athletes will make the cut and enter the Man-on-man elimination series of round 4, followed by quarters, semi’s and finals, leading to the crowning of the Arica Grand Slam champion.

This format is a mix of the infamous Shark Island Specialty format and World Tour standard competition. The integration of both formats is a revolutionary concept that, it is hoped, will lift the level of surfing and create better viewing for fans and spectators. Our top athletes will now have the chance to go for the biggest possible manoeuvres, in the most critical sections of the wave, while eliminating the “safe surfing” criteria where athletes only need to make a score to progress through a heat, which can be stagnant at times”

The pre-event riders’ meeting went well with all being prepared to test the new format at the Arica event. The wave predictions for the duration of the event indicated that high surf ratings would allow riders to post high scores, and put the new format to the test. The riders understood that the system had the potential to bring out the best in all, with the pressure on to test the limits of their skills. There was no room for “safe” riding in the first 3 rounds with all pushing hard to get into the top 16 for the 4th round. The riders made the point that, with the radical format and riders going big, it was important that the event judges “reset” their scoring scale for each round and that consistency of scoring in each round was most important.

The trials for the main event went off in good conditions, with riders throwing down some big scores from the start as only 6 trialists could go through to the last 32.

Thursday 7 June and we started Round 1 of the new format. In the heat before mine, fellow Sniper team rider, Alex Uranga, pulled into a wave that ran and closed out. He was slammed down into the waist deep water, hitting the reef and injuring his ribs to rule him out of the heat in the early minutes. Seeing him picked up by the jetski, I remember thinking to myself that we needed to be careful of the powerful waves on the shallow reef.

My heat started with some of the cleanest and shallowest conditions I have seen out at Flopos. I got busy from the start of the heat, getting into some smaller waves and opening my account with a mid-range score. It was then that I found a smaller insider where I launched a really good backflip, scoring a 7.75. I stayed active throughout the heat and managed a 7.25 ride to back up my previous score. With new format in mind, I had decided that I should stay busy throughout my first heat. And then I took off on a wave that would seriously change my day!

After a steep takeoff, I snuck under the falling lip to get into the barrel. The wave then seemed to take on an almond shape, forcing me to ride a bit too far up the wall. The shock wave surged me forward with little control and the outside rail dipped below the surface, forcing my board to dive and me to slip off. In that instant, I clearly remember thinking to myself: “I am hitting the bottom for sure!”

Quick reflexes put me into a tabletop position, landing knees first, then hands, and then getting steam-rolled onto the front left side of my head.

When you’re at Arica and consider the prospect of smashing the reef at Flopos, you always hope that you emerge conscious and relatively unscathed! As I broke the surface and took my first breath, I was thankful to be aware of what was going on. My legs didn’t seem to want to kick so I waved to the jetski pilot who was always on standby to assist riders, if necessary. I remember feeling my head, seeing blood, and realising that I had a good cut in my scalp.

While being taken to the medics for attention, I realised that I may need stitches in the wound but dreaded the thought of a possible early end to my 2018 Arica campaign.

On my way to the hospital, I stopped by the hotel to drop my equipment and get reassuring messages through to my mother and my girlfriend, Rosie, as I knew that they would have been watching the live feed and, with my history of bodyboarding mishaps, would be concerned. Something I seldom appreciate is how I affect the people around me with the risks that I take riding on shallow rocky reef waves.

A 2-hour long ordeal of waiting rooms, stitches in my scalp, some really painful injections in the bum, and I was out of hospital. The doctors were not happy with the fact that I was determined to compete. After lengthy discussion it was agreed that, with the correct head protection, I would be okay to go out and ride. A huge thanks again to the Union Flopos members for all their help that day with everything!

In the morning, I was greeted by a helpful friend, Juan Santos, who arrived with a wetsuit hood and swimming cap. For the next few days this would be me in the heats…3/2 Reeflex Wetsuit and a swim cap under a hood!

I was up in Round 2 Heat 4 and part of the preparation was to get myself ready with the cap and hood. I am used to riding with a hood in the cold Western Cape waters of South Africa, so this made it relatively easy for me to adapt. I took to the water to test the fit and it felt good. After a bit of a nervous start, I began to push my riding once more. A mid-range scoring ride, backed up with a good barrel to backflip, raised my 3rd highest score to a 6.65. That was it for the day; my head was feeling really good, and that made me happy!

Day 3 of the event started with bigger conditions and the feeling of anticipation amongst the riders was at an all-time high. Amaury Lavernhe started the morning, showing us all that there were excellent scores to be had out in the water by scoring a 9.0 and 8.25.

My heat started slowly, with us all getting some medium scores. I saw an insider flying across the reef and knew it had scoring potential. With that in mind, I took off, lined up the section and went into an Air Reverse, landed in the flats and rewarded with an 8.0. This pushed my 3-wave total up to 23 points. I then sniffed out another good wave, pushing the value of my third scoring ride to a 7.4.

My 3-wave total placed me in second position on the leaderboard of the top 16 riders advancing through to Round 4 of the event.

Round 4 was going to be tough as we reverted back to the man-on-man elimination format of the competition. I was drawn against local Chilean, Yoshua Toledo. Toledo was quick to open his account with a 7.75. I initially struggled to get a good score but managed a good invert on the left for a 7-point ride. It was then that Toledo went on to the attack and scored a 6.1. I responded with a 6.5, then hurried back out to slide into a right which provided a good barrel as it ran along the shallow piece of reef. An excellent score of 8.25 and I took the lead to take the heat.

Day 4 and into the quarters. I was matched up against my good friend, Jacob Romero. He had been on fire all contest, achieving the first 10-point ride of the event and he didn’t look to be slowing down at all. The first exchange gave me the upper hand with a 5.5 to Jacob’s 5. Jacob backed his score with a 4.75. I looked to get going on a good left that turned out to be a bad wave and heard the announcer calling Jacob onto a bomb. He had gone right on my left and went for a massive air reverse, landed it, but was unfortunately swallowed up by the white water. I looked at one wave coming across the reef from the west. The wave changed direction and pushed me into the perfect place to set up for what was going to be an insane ride. I faded into it, dropped my legs and pushed up on my board, gaining plenty of speed inside the barrel. The sheer girth of the barrel made the wave worth it, spitting water out as it steam-rolled across the shallow right hand reef and into the channel. The announcer was shouting as I emerged from the long barrel, skipping into the channel and out of the way of the next set wave. An 8.5 was awarded for the wave and put me into a convincing 1st place. With only a few minutes left, Jacob needed a solid score. He got a 7-point ride but needed only a 7.01 to take the lead. In the last minute of the heat, he caught his last wave but it swung and closed out ahead of him. This put me in first place, into the semifinals, and a spot on the podium!

In the semi, I was up against Tanner McDaniel. He had also been on fire the entire contest, taking out the local favorite, Alan Muñoz, in quite possibly the best heat I have watched to date. I had a slow start, getting some incomplete rides on the right while Tanner posted two 9-point rides in his first two waves on the left. I was left looking to fight my way out of a huge combination of 18.25. In the last 10 minutes, I was able to get two scoring rides; an 8.65 for a barrel to roll and then a 6.25 for a barrel ride. Too little, too late and Tanner moved on to the final.

Pierre Louis Costes got off to a flying start in the final to put Tanner in to combination early on. With the time counting down and less than 15 minutes left, Tanner exploded with a huge air reverse; a 10-point ride! He had broken the combination and needed a high 8-point ride to take the win. The next exchange saw Tanner scoop into the biggest left of the day and, with a gurgling spit of air and water from the barrel, he emerged before quickly ducking out and missing the reef; another 10-point ride! APB history made: the first ever “perfect 20” in a final.

After my earlier little altercation with the reef, I walked away very happy with a tie 3rd position with Jared Houston, behind Pierre Louis Costes in 2nd and Tanner McDaniel taking the Arica title.

As expected, this year’s Arica Event came with its challenges. The change of format, the need for high-risk riding, as well as the introduction of a new promotor, all contributed. Union Flopos, who took on the huge job of promoting the event, did amazingly for their first year which bodes very well for the future of the Arica event.

General consensus around the format is that it will work and that it will bring in something completely new and fresh to bodyboarding, allowing riders to push the level of the sport. Every rider pushed the limits of what they thought possible at a contest and I believe that this is a great format for the future of the sport of bodyboarding.

This year’s level of riding has blown me away. Never did I think that we would have to stretch ourselves to push so much harder to get awarded big scores by the judges. Arica 2018 has been the best event that I have attended: ticking the boxes of organisation, running and riding.

Thank you to the Union Flopos, along with all the APB Tour event staff and judges, for running an outstanding event. A huge thanks to my supporters, fans, family, friends and girlfriend for their support this past week. I would like to thank everybody for the support, love and amazing messages received following my injury.  

Lastly, and as always, to my sponsors: thanks again for believing in me, pushing me to achieve the result that I did, and for supporting me as I live my dream!

Final day highlights by: The Noria Films

All images by: Pablo Jiménez & Patrick Perez 

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