The crowd in Arica was awarded with a spectacular display of surfing on the final day of the 2016 WSL QS1,500 Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour. The sun came out and minimal breeze kept conditions glassy as waves in the 4-6 foot range (1.5-2 meters) provided barrel after barrel at the El Gringo reefbreak in Arica, Chile.
French surfer William Aliotti defeated Australian Dean Bowen by a score of 17.50 to 15.00 in the Final, which built up to an explosive crescendo. After a slow start to the heat with low-scoring waves, Aliotti fired the first shot by earning a 7.50 on a throaty barrel, and then backed it up with an additional 7.07.
Then, as the rhythm of the heat intensified, Aliotti brought out the big guns. After paddling into a set wave, he pumped down the line on a lengthy tube ride and disappeared completely behind the foamball before coming out after the spray. He received a 10.00 across the board from the judges.
But as Aliotti began his paddle back to the takeoff zone, he witnessed dropping into a clean barrel and getting spat out with the spray to earn a 9.17. After the back-and-forth fireworks, Bowen had the opportunity to tip the scales back in his favor. With the clock ticking down, the Australian scratched into what looked like the best wave of the heat. He parked himself into the barrel and came screaming out with the spray, but came undone right at the end.
"I was feeling good in the Final and was just enjoying the moment," said Aliotti after being chaired up to the winner's podium. "The waves were amazing. I saw Dean get some good ones and I knew it was going to be close. Conditions were super good all week and it feels amazing to win.
"Arica is incredible; the waves are always big and powerful, and it's consistent with any kind of swell. The people are great, the food is delicious and I had a great time here. I want to come back for sure."
The Hossegor local attributed his success to having adapted early on to the quality of the Chilean waves.
"The waves have been amazing every day and that's the reason why I do these events," Alitotti noted. "I was trying to build my scores throughout the event and I finally did that with the 10 at the end. I drove up here from Santiago and have been surfing the whole way.
"I got here early and surfed a big swell, so I knew there was great potential for the contest. On that 10-point ride, I knew I was deep and needed to surf it quickly. I had to go over the foamball and get passed a bunch of chandeliers, so when I came out, I knew it would be a good score."
This was the first QS event Aliotti has competed in all year. With his victory at the Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour, Aliotti took home U$ 10,000 in prize money and 1,500 WSL Qualifying Series ranking points.
"I want to keep doing events in quality waves," Aliotti said. "This was my first event this year. I didn't want to surf in bad waves, just amazing ones, like here. I still want to freesurf and do video parts, but I'll probably do some events in Europe."
Despite not taking the win, Bowen was still pleased with his result and his time in Arica.
"The Final was amazing," he said. "I've been a friend of William's for a long time and we were just chatting out there. I was trying to go as big and deep as possible, but I just couldn't quite get out of a couple," said Bowen.
"I got out of that crazy one at the end, I was going so fast but I just couldn't control it at the end. But the vision I had in the barrel was amazing and this is a final I will never forget. I didn't win, but I'm pumped."
After having a promising pro junior career in competitive surfing, Bowen distanced himself from competition in recent years. But with his result in Arica, he hopes to get back into contest mode.
"I'd love to keep doing QS events," continued Bowen. "I haven't done a contest for several years and I've just been trying to improve and get better. Now I'm trying to get a feel for things again, have fun and I'd love to compete at another big event."
He later explained how his friends were pivotal in making his decision to compete at El Gringo.
"My friends Owen Wright and Anthony Walsh told me that this was the kind of contest I'd do well in -- and I guess they were right (laughs)," he said. "I wanted to show people that I'm a good barrel-rider and this is the kind of wave where I could do that."
Goofy-footers definitely had the advantage at the powerful waves at El Gringo. From the Quarterfinals onwards, all regular-footers had been eliminated from competition. And, with local knowledge being of utmost importance at a break like El Gringo, it was shocking to see that none of the Chilean surfers made it past the Quarterfinals after Chilean surfer Manuel Selman was eliminated by Bowen.
Representing Peru, Alonso Correa looked sharp throughout the contest, but was unable to get past the ensuing event winner, Aliotti.
"The waves were actually harder than they looked," remarked Correa. "Today they were a little bit smaller and breaking very close to the rocks, but there were still plenty of good ones. I'm stoked with how I did. This is a great result for me, it's just too bad I didn't make it to the finals. Bowen and Aliotti surfed great all event long, so congratulations to them."
In terms of the World Surf League Qualifying Series rankings, William Aliotti after only one event climbs into 150th place after the event in Chile. Bowen, on the other hand, jumped from 202nd to 119th. With his third-place finish in Chile, Correa was the only surfer to break the top-100 barrier by advancing from 118th to 86th position on the QS rankings.