Leandro Usuna (ARG), 28, is the new WSL South America Regional Champion. The Argentinian clinched the title during the Hang Loose Pro Contest at Joaquina when his rivals Flavio Nakagima (BRA) and Bino Lopes (BRA) were eliminated from the QS 6,000 event. The WSL South America Pro Junior trophies were also handed out in Florianopolis to Weslley Dantas (BRA), 18, and Tainá Hinckel (BRA), 15, while Nathalie Martins (BRA), 26, clinched her WSL Women's Regional Title in late October at the QS 1,500 event in Pichilemu, Chile.
"I'm super stoked. This has been a good year. Not only did I win the WSL South America Title, but I also won a gold medal at the ISA championship in Costa Rica," said Usuna, the first Argentinian surfer to win the regional title after ten straight Brazilian champions. "It's hard to surf against the Brazilian surfers because they're so good and there are so many of them and I've been doing this for so long. I'm just so happy to have won. There was some tough competition with the other guys, but we're a tight crew. I hang out with all the Brazilians, Peruvians, Chileans…we're all like brothers."
One of the most important aspects to being a World Surf League Regional Champion is the fact that the athlete is automatically guaranteed a spot in all WSL QS 6,000 and QS 10,000 status level events, regardless of their QS ranking. Only the top 100 surfers on the Qualifying Series rankings are able to compete in these larger events, but each of the seven Regional Champions are given assured entry. At the moment, Usuna is ranked at 105th on the QS with only two events to go in Hawaii, but the pressure's off now that he's clinched the title.
"Finally," said the ever-jovial Usuna. "I've been on the QS for like 5 years and I've always been in between 100 and 150 on the rankings, so just to get a guaranteed spot feels amazing. I didn't crack the top 100 this year, but I got in through another way you know? So I'm super happy I made it. I'm just relieved and thankful too for everybody that's helped me out all these years."
As is the case on any tour, consistency and adaptability were key factors in Usuna's victory.
"I got a 2nd in my home town in Argentina, a 3rd at Praia do Forte, a 9th in Chile and although I didn't get a good result at Joaquina, the results came through and I was able to take the title. Each wave of the series was really different. It was small and windy at Mar del Plata, Praia do Forte was real good; warm and consistent, but small too…and Arica was just the complete opposite: cold, big and barreling…so you've got to be consistent and adapt to the waves."
Nathalie Martins was crowned as the WSL South America Women's Regional Champion after two events. Martins earned a runner-up finish at the Praia do Forte Pro in Bahia, Brazil, against Silvana Lima (BRA) and a 9th at the Maui and Sons Pichilemu Pro in Chile, which was won by Sofia Mulanovich (PER). As Regional Champion, Martins is also gains entry into all QS 6,000 and QS 10,000 Women's events in 2017.
"It was so important for me to win the WSL South America Title because now I can get into all the QS events next year," said Martins. "And since I'm looking for a main sponsor, winning this title definitely makes my résumé look more attractive. My dream has always been to be on the CT, but I've never had enough financial backing. I only surfed in six events this year, and had to wait for any openings in QS 6000 events from the list of alternates to try to get in. Next year will be completely different and I'm going to try to surf in as many events as possible," concluded Martins.
In the WSL South America Pro Junior category, Weslley Dantas, younger brother of CT surfer Wiggolly Dantas and two-time Brazilian National Champion Suelen Naraisa, was head-and-shoulders above his opposition to take home the Pro Junior Title. Dantas will now represent South America at the WSL Pro Junior World Championship held in Sydney, Australia in January 2017.
"It's an honor to win the South America Pro Junior Title," said Dantas. "I've seen so many great surfers win this title, like my brother (Wiggolly won in 2007), Deivid Silva (2014 and 2015) and others and to receive it myself is a dream come true. I've been working hard, it's been very intense and I think this title reflects all the time I've been putting in. Now my focus is on Australia and my goal is to win the world title there."
In addition to Weslley, the remaining three athletes that will accompany Dantas to compete at the WSL Pro Junior World Championship in Sydney are: Alonso Correa (PER), Mateus Herdy (BRA) and Kim Marcondes (BRA). In the women's division, the two highest ranked surfers are Josefina Ane, 18, from Argentina and the 2016 WSL South America Pro Junior Champion, Tainá Hinckel.
"I'm so happy that I won this title, words can't express all of the emotions I'm feeling," said the 15-year old Hinckel upon receiving her trophy. "I'd like to thank all of my sponsors, my family and everyone that's been giving me their support. I hope to do well in Australia and represent Brazil well. I'm going to give it my best shot to win the world title," Hinckel finished off.