The fiesta is underway in Costa Rica as the Essential Costa Rica Surf Pro title is back on home soil after an all-Tico Final affair between Carlos Munoz and Noe Mar McGonagle witnessed Munoz claim his second-career Qualifying Series (QS) victory in dynamic fashion.
A massive crowd packed on the sands of Playa Jaco for the highly-anticipated finals day and showed their passion of surfing with cheers for Rachel Presti's maiden QS chair-up in the Women's QS 1,500 event over one of its top performers Tia Blanco. The ocean delivered one last run of good, three-to-four foot swell despite inconsistent conditions throughout an inspiring finals day.
A Dream Realized: Munoz Claims Victory on Home Soil Over McGonagle
The Tico presence was palpable on finals day with three of its most esteemed surfers remaining to start Quarterfinal action as Jairo Perez joined Munoz and McGonagle. But, it was the people's champion Munoz who rose to the occasion and earned an excellent 8.17 (out of a possible 10) to all but solidify his second-career QS victory over finals day standout McGonagle. The family man came out of the water beaming with his countrymen surrounding him before being greeted by his infant daughter and family on the beach.
"It's just amazing and it felt like I was in a futbol stadium or something with all the noise and everybody cheering so to share this moment with them, especially my daughter and family, is incredible," Munoz said. "Noe (Mar McGonagle) is such a great surfer and we always push each other so to have that heat with him was amazing. I've won a QS 1,000 and now a QS 1,500 so it's that next level up and I hope I can continue that this year or next year. After Spain, only getting a 3-point heat total, this was a second chance and I just tried to surf it smart, and I'm just super happy to win here."
Munoz tore through finals day starting with a tough battle against event standout Wesley Leite in the Quarterfinals before taking on new North America No. 1 Lucca Mesinas in a wave-starved Semifinal that Munoz was still able to find a solid 14.23 (out of a possible 20) heat total. The 25-year-old now sets his sights on a much bigger dream as he prepares for the upcoming Triple Crown of Surfing this winter.
"I think it's the first time in QS competition that this many Costa Ricans made it this far which is really exciting," Munoz added. "For me it wasn't a lot of pressure just being on the opposite side of the draw and I just sent good vibes that way for them because I had to surf against a Lucca (Mesinas) and Wesley (Leite). I'm going to take advantage of this win and now I'm thinking about doing the QS 1,500 in Peru to gain even more momentum, but I'll be heading to Hawaii with my dream to qualify."
McGonagle's Almost Perfect Ending
Costa Rica had plenty to celebrate today as McGonagle not only made it an all-Costa Rican Final, but smashed his way through finals day with two near-perfect scores along the way. The 22-year-old earned a 9.77, the day's highest single-wave score, in his Quarterfinal heat to put Jose Lopez in need of an 8-point ride before taking on fellow Tico Perez in Semifinal action -- earning another 9.00. It was an almost perfect ending for McGonagle as he now prepares for a big winter alongside his countryman, Munoz.
"It's amazing to have a big event back here and the fans are amazing, we now how to put on a good show," McGonagle said. "I've been trying to work on not peaking too soon and I admire Cali (Munoz) and the work he's done through the years using that strategy. We always talked about what a dream it would be to surf against each other in a QS Final and to do it here is perfect. I felt like I kept getting better each heat and the Final had that high tide which made it really close."
"This is incredible for the younger kids, especially sponsorship wise as it's really tough to get that support here, so for them to get some points here and try to make it out in the world isn't easy but this makes it possible," McGonagle added. "I'm super stoked and thankful, now it's time to get ready for Hawaii."
Noteworthy Finishes: Job Done in Costa Rica For Lucca Mesinas
While it wasn't the finish Mesinas was looking for to increase his international ranking, the Peruvian's Semifinal result pushes him above Kevin Schulz for new North America No. 1 with some healthy breathing room. Now he heads into the Pismo Beach Open only needing to better 120 points on the regional rankings following a great run to his third-place finish, following to eventual winner Munoz.
"It feels really good to improve those regional rankings, that's what I came here for and a third is good, but for sure had the taste for the Final," Mesinas said. "I wanted to better my overall rank, but it's okay I'm happy to be here and this was a great experience back in Costa Rica. It's always nice to do these contests and I'm super stoked to be first heading to Pismo, I know I have to better another bad result, so I'm excited."
Jaco Native Perez's Inspiring Performance
Once a lifeguard on the sands of Playa Jaco, Perez made a brilliant run through the week that finished with a battle against fellow Tico and runner-up McGonagle after defeating Chauncey Robinson in a Quarterfinal battle. The 28-year-old continues to be one of the country's top competitive talents with his great form and pure passion for the sport of surfing that embodies the country of Costa Rica.
"It was a great feeling to get this far and Noe Mar is a great athlete, and he made sure that first wave counted with a 9-pointer," Perez said. "I'm really happy with this result and I'm home so it meant a lot to give a good performance in my house. I'm thankful to God to make it to the Semis with this level of talent around. I fell on the best wave in that heat and I paid for that mistake. It was an amazing event to have all this support on the beach and we all really appreciated this contest."
The next North America QS event will be the men and women's Pismo Beach Open QS 1,000 from October 11 - 14 at Pismo Beach Pier, California.