The Billabong Panama Pro


Billabong Pro Panama (Mar 16-18, 2001)

Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP)2001 World Qualifying Series


Playa Venao, Panama (Sunday, March 18, 2001). Three times world champion TomCurren scored perfect tens on an incredible backhand barrel, to win theBillabong Pro Panama in what must rate as one of the best tube rides everseen in professional surfing. Curren’s flawless competitive performancethroughout the event was a display of precision maneuvers, capped by hisunbelievable last wave in the final. Competitors, band members, spectators and officials rode event buses fivehours from Panama City to Pedasi, hometown of Panamanian President MireyaMoscoso and where most surfers stayed, a short ride from the contest site.The beach break at Playa Venao delivered consistent walled peaks with allday offshore winds to surfers who had come from a plethora of nations inCentral America, North and South America, Europe, and the Caribbean. TheLatin flavored contingent favored surfing around the fuller waters of theextreme tidal ranges, which dictated when the event would run.

Against a backdrop of grassland and forest, with sailboats anchored in thelee of the southern headland, seven times Panamanian National Champion andevent wildcard Gary Saavedra progressed to the quarterfinals, where arguablythe hottest heat of the event took place. On a split decision, eventualsecond placed Magnum Martinez of Venezuela and Phillip Watters of Floridaprogressed at the expense of Saavedra, who was unlucky to be left needing astronger third ride.

Some days before the event began, Curren had shown up at the contest sitewith Gary, appearing fit and relaxed. At the pre-event press conferenceparty held at Senor Frog’s in Panama City, Tom had played electric guitarwith Donavon Frankenreiter and Sunchild, and to the great delight of thecrowd, again joined the band at their contest site performance, this time onthe drums and acoustic guitar.

But Curren’s best performance was to come in the last minutes of the final,when he took off backhand on one of the largest set waves, which at firstglance appeared to be a close out. He pulled in right away at breakneckspeed, and was immediately lost from sight as the wave shut down. FinalistCam Anderson, who briefly rode the right towards him, reported seeing Currentaking a high line and pumping hard in what was the only tube ridden in theentire event.

After a few seconds, Curren’s shadow could be seen by the stunned crowd,traveling at full speed behind the curtain. At the latest possible momentbefore the right met the left and the lip shut down, Curren shifted weightto his outside rail, straightened out of the tube to a roar of disbelieffrom everyone, looked at the crowd and briefly claimed the wave. Saavedrasaid he had never seen a tube like that at his home break, ever.

On exiting the surf, the throng of photographers and admirers swarmed Currenand his Panamanian wife Makeira, who went waist deep into the shore break tomeet Tom after his epic victory. As they hurried arm in arm across theburning black volcanic sand, the crowd cheered and clapped, respectfullykeeping their distance, allowing husband and wife an unimpeded run to thepodium. “That was pretty nice, huh?” said Curren of his barrel, in typicalunderstatement. In the women’s event, despite the impressive backhand surfing of JuliaChristian and an unexpected charge from French entrant Claire Karabatsos,World Championship Tour seed Keala Kennelly of Hawai’i dominated all herheats, and emerged a clear winner in the women’s event.

In the Nations Challenge, Colombia and Panama had an early exit, while theUSA defeated Inca and then Venezuela to meet finalists Mexico, who had takencare of Costa Rica and the Caribbean. To the delight of the crowd, PuertoEscondido locals Raol Noyola and Eric Ramireez unexpectedly defeated the USA,taking home $400 and a bunch of Mexican pride. The two event buses arrived at the town of Jaco after an eighteen-hour ride,filled with surfers, boards and bags. The Billabong Pro Costa Rica runsMarch 23-25 at Playa Hermosa/Jaco, a small surf-based tourist town thathouses most of the competitors.

Results of the Billabong Pro Panama Mens
1st Tom Curren USA $4,000
2nd Magnum Martinez VEN $2,000
3RD Matt Keenan USA $1,500
4th Cam Anderson USA $1,300
5th Phillip Watters USA $1,000
5th Frank Walsh USA $1,000
7th Mike Hoisington USA $800
7th MJ Marsh USA $800

Results of the Billabong Pro Panama Womens
1st Keala Kennelly HAW $2,000
2nd Julia Christian USA $900
3RD Kelly Hutchinson USA $600
4th Claire Karabatsos FRA $500
5th Siri Cota USA $300
5th Lila Aizpurua VEN $300
7th Lisbeth Vindez CR $200
7th Nathacha Rodriguez VEN $200

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