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IBA Grand Slam Series 2011 Highlights

This year’s world tour showcased the athleticism and versatility of the top 24 riders. From the massive waves in Australia, Chile, Mexico and Fronton, to the not so massive waves in Hawaii, Portugal, Reunion Island and Puerto Rico, only the most versatile rider would walk away with the spoils.

Pierre-Louis Costes

In the end, it was the Frenchman, Pierre-Louis Costes, who was victorious over his rivals, claiming the title by winning his quarterfinal heat against Jared Houston at el Fronton, the most important quarterfinal victory of his life. Here are blow-by-blow highlights from this year’s world tour.Event 1 of 8: Pipeline Pro. February 15-25

Twenty-four of the previous year’s top riders were selected to be part of the inaugural Grand Slam Series world tour. The beach was abuzz with the soon to be introduced new format, beginning at the Box in Western Australia. The final day saw the top 24 riders compete for the first time. Tom Rigby, not part of the top 24, went up against: Jeff Hubbard, Dallas Singer and Jared Houston, in slightly onshore four to six foot waves at backdoor in the final. With five minutes left in the final, Hubbard needed a combination of waves to win. He came out of an impossibly long barrel at backdoor and received a 9.75. Two minutes later, he landed a backflip and a roll, and got a 9.5 and claimed victory in the first event of the year.

Event 2 of 8: The Box Pro. April 14-20

The new format for the world tour was introduced. The Leaderboard Rounds, a brand new method of competition, includes three rounds of surfing before anyone is eliminated from the event. Points are allocated to different places in heats: 1st = six points, 2nd = four points, 3rd = 2 points and 4th = 1 point. After three rounds, the scores are tallied and the bottom 16 competitors fall away, leaving the remaining 16 to compete man-on-man against one another to the final. In Western Australia, the first two rounds had to run at Gas Bay because of time constraints. Magno Oliveira missed his round one heat, received zero, but a win in round two and a second in round three, meant he squeaked into the top sixteen. Sam Bennett pulled off the first invert to air reverse in competition. The day of the finals was massive, with closeout sets breaking into the channel. Oliveira, who had beaten three world champions on his way to the final and launched one of the craziest inverts in his semi against Amaury Lavernhe, came up against local and contest favourite, Ryan Hardy. Hardy won the final and the first Box contest in almost ten years.

Event 3 of 8: Arica Chilean Challenge. 20-29 May

El Gringo, the super heavy, super shallow reef and glassy-every-morning wave in Arica, has been the sure thing for solid waves on the bodyboarding world tour for many years. The trials were held in pumping four to six foot glassy conditions. The swell dropped a bit in the Leaderboard rounds, but returned on the final day of competition with eight to ten foot sets. Ben Player caught some incredible waves in his quarterfinal against Magno Oliveira and looked like the man to beat. Unfortunately for Player, the waves never came to him in his semi and he lost to Dave Winchester. The second semi-final, Guilherme Tamega versus Amaury Lavernhe, reminded everyone why Tamega’s nickname is ‘the animal’. He took off on a set wave, got a deep barrel, claimed it and pointed to the dry end section known as Tomate’s place, then raced toward the lip and went for a ‘death’ roll. He hit the water and dived off the nose of his board as the wave closed out and sucked dry. Understandably, Tamega went on to win the event, defeating Dave Winchester in the final, throwing Winchester and Player’s boards into the crowd during the presentation ceremony.

Event 4 of 8: AGIT/ Turbo Zicatela Pro. 4-13 August

Possibly the most anticipated location on the tour calendar, Zicatela beach in Puerto Escondido had never before hosted a world tour event. Ryan Hardy got off to a shaky start in the Leaderboard rounds, but his confidence and momentum grew as he progressed through the man-on-man rounds. Hardy caught the biggest wave of the contest- a huge left-hander- in his semi against Mitch Rawlins. Hardy hit a bump at the bottom of the wave mid-bottom turn, lost his speed and didn’t come out. The waves Hardy caught in previous heats didn’t come his way in the final against Jeff Hubbard. Hubbard started the final with a huge air reverse and almost landed it. Hardy was in the lead for most of the final when a right came to Hubbard. The Hawaiian bottom turned around the section and launched an invert high above the lip, getting the score he needed to take the lead and his second win of the year.

Event 5 of 8: Sintra Portugal Pro. 22-28 August

The bubble had to burst eventually. After three back-to-back events with waves eight feet and above, the Sintra Portugal Pro was, perhaps, doomed to be an anti-climax. Hoping for big waves at the peak of the European summer was a tall order. Although the ocean didn’t deliver the goods, the riders put on a display of bodyboarding athleticism, milking the waves for all their speed, landing backflips, ARS’s and rolls in waves barely shoulder high. The Brazilians, Eder Luciano and Uri Valadao, proved to be the best in the small conditions and met in the final, after wins against Jones Russell and Amaury Lavernhe in the semi-finals respectively. Valadao won the final and beat Luciano for a third time in Sintra.

Event 6 of 8: 2011 Nissan Reunion Pro. 30 September- 9 October

A shark attack a week before the event had riders concerned about what was lurking below the surface off the French owned isle. Event organisers went to great lengths to ensure everyone would be as safe as possible. Navy divers were deployed with cameras to monitor the reef during competition to check for predators. Alex Uranga needed his brother to help him in and out of his wetsuit because he had dislocated his shoulder a few weeks before coming to Reunion. He grimaced his way to the Trials final and won. In round two he hit his face on the reef pulling out of the back of a wave. Fortunately, the cuts were superficial and Uranga battled his way to the final. Jake Stone, who had been struggling for a result all year, came up against local favourite, Amaury Lavernhe, in the quarterfinal. Stone beat the Reunion Islander and went all the way to final. Stone led the final almost to the end, but Uranga was able to sneak a wave in while he was without priority to win the event. It is the first time anyone has won the Trials and the main event.

Event 7 of 8: Encanto Pro Puerto Rico. November 2-13

The title was race beginning to take shape. Jeff Hubbard was way out in the lead and a win in Puerto Rico would make him the new world champion. Statistically speaking, half the riders on tour had a chance of winning the tour, although half a dozen of them needed back-to-back wins to pull it off. The contest was blessed with two swells during the waiting period. Hubbard went up against title contender Pierre-Louis Costes in round four and lost. Jeff’s brother Dave put on a fine display of bodyboarding versatility, making both dropknee and Men’s finals. Dave nearly became the first person to win dropknee and Men’s at the same event. World title contender, and Dave’s adversary in the Men’s final, Pierre-Louis Costes, was behind the eight ball the entire heat until, with only seconds left on the clock, he caught a wave and landed two backflips in a row. Costes won the event landed himself within 300 points of Jeff Hubbard.

Event 8 of 8: NMD-Pride-Stealth Fronton Pro. 6-15 December

The bodyboarding world was on the edge of their seats, as they wondered who would be crowned the new world champion at the final event of the year. Hubbard was still the favourite to win- all he had to do was finish ahead of the other three title contenders: Guilherme Tamega, Ryan Hardy and Pierre-Louise Costes. Tamega was the first to exit the race, not making it past the Leaderboard rounds. Jason Finlay, the international wildcard, met Hubbard in the first heat of round four. With a minute to go, Hubbard needed an average score to take the heat. A wave came to him and he got the score. With less than ten seconds left in the heat, Finlay caught an inside wave and landed a clean full rotation air reverse to beat the tour leader. All Hubbard could do then was to sit, wait and hope that Hardy didn’t win or Costes didn’t make the semi-finals. Next to exit the title race was Hardy. Luck wasn’t on his side as he failed to land a stock standard invert on his opening wave and lost a fin on his second, allowing Mitch Rawlins to breeze into the quarterfinals. Costes was the last title contender left in the event. To become world champion he had two giant hurdles ahead of him, namely winning his next two heats, the one against local wildcard Elliot Morales, the other against Jared Houston. Costes beat Morales. And so the world title was to be decided on the final day of the bodyboarding calendar.

The final day of competition unfolded in huge waves. Jason Finlay set the level in the first heat of the day, airdropping into a massive closeout on the right. Next, Andrew Lester, who admitted that these were the scariest waves he’d ever ridden in a competition, got a long barrel across the reef. Mitch Rawlins got an even better barrel. The tide was filling in and the waves were getting bigger and better. Quarterfinal heat four, the world title decider, Costes vs Houston, was the heat everyone wanted to watch.

Costes had a marginal lead over Houston, with less than ten minutes to go, a wave walled up in front of him, he was deep, but in the perfect spot, no room for error. He turned and went, scooped in and backdoored the barrel and came out with the spit, fist clenched. Costes had realized his dream and became a world champion. The new world champ ran out of steam, however, in his semi-final against Mitch Rawlins. Rawlins caught the biggest wave of the event, a big round 12 footer. As he pulled in, the barrel pinched on the end and didn’t let him out. Finlay, the man who ousted Hubbard, faced off against Rawlins in the final. The schoolteacher from Wollongong, beat Rawlins in the final and was carried on the shoulders of his shaper, Nick Mezritz ,and team rider, Dave Winchester, to the presentation area where Finlay, Rawlins and Costes had a sparkling wine fight.

Wow, what a year.