The streets of Pedasi were awash with the flags and the colors of the 31 competing nations, which came to Panama hoping to leave with happy memories and – hopefully – a few medals. The Opening Ceremony of the DAKINE ISA World Junior Surfing Championship Presented by Billabong officially lifted the curtain on the third consecutive ISA World Championship to come to the shores of Panama, and it has the potential to be the most memorable event to date.
With over 300 of the best junior surfers in the world on hand, a promising wave forecast provided by Surfline (the Official Forecaster) and offshore winds all-day, every day at Playa Venao, the necessary elements are falling into place.
“The surfing world has returned to this beautiful country for the third time; we love Panama!” said Fernando Aguerre, the President of the ISA, in his opening remarks. “With over 400 athletes and team officials from 31 nations, this is the largest juniors event in history. Regardless of the color of our skin, the country we come from, or anything that may seem to divide us, we are all connected through surfing.”
He exemplified his point later, saying, “Today I was amazed watching the Argentinean and Great Britain flags waving together, with their team members sharing a moment of joy, far from what happens on a political level. This shows us what surfing is capable of doing. Maybe we should tell the politicians to go surfing.” The comment received applause from the entire audience.
The two countries are currently engaged in a long-standing skirmish for control of the Falkan Islands, off the coast of Argentina.
The ISA World Juniors brings together the best under-18 surfers from around the world to compete for individual and team glory. Three divisions (Boys Under-18, Boys Under-16, and Girls Under-18) will be contested over the course of eight days of competition at Playa Venao, a beach-break located on the Pacific Ocean side of the country.
After the Parade of Nations came to a close, each team sent a flag bearer and a representative onto the stage for the traditional Sands of the World Ceremony, where sands from home beaches are poured into a glass container, representing the peaceful gathering of nations through the love of surfing.
While Aguerre expressed his love for the country, Panama’s Tourism Minister, Salomon Shamah, shared his gratitude for surfers around the world for including Panama in their vacation plans. He indicated that nearly 15-percent of tourism revenue in the country comes from surfing.
“If we don’t recognize the importance of surfers and surfing in our economy, we’re not going to make it,” Shamah said. “We need to persuade government authorities to come to the beaches to show them all the brotherhood and the peaceful environment that is there. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a gathering, drawn together by surfing, of this amount of people from around the world. It’s wonderful.”
The speeches were followed by two performances: a violin performance that was highlighted by a pair of young Panamanian free-styling singers and the “Dirty Devil Dance.”
When the performances finished, all 31 flag bearers made their way back onto the stage. With the waving flags as a backdrop, Aguerre approached the microphone once again.
“This is the magic moment,” he began, “we have the flags of the surfing world here and I now declare open the DAKINE ISA World Junior Surfing Championship Presented by Billabong! Happy, happy! Good luck to everyone!”
The surfing action for the DAKINE ISA World Junior Surfing Championship Presented by Billabong begins tomorrow, April 15, with the Qualifying Rounds of the Boys Under-18 and Boys Under-16 divisions.