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|With conditions improving today American dark horse Rick Takahashi caught this bomb to beat Hawaiian heavy Sunny Garcia.|
As things stand going into the final weekend of the ISA World Masters, Team USA currently leads the standings and is well positioned to potentially top the podium with a gold medal. With a drained out, mid-morning tide and the contest temporarily on hold at Nicaragua's Playa Colorado, ESPN Surfing sat down with American stalwarts Shea Lopez and Dean Randazzo to talk a little story and get their perspective on Team USA's chances.
Lets talk about America, how are you guys feeling?
Shea Lopez: The team's doing great. We're in first right now. Ricky [Schaffer] had a big win this morning, Allen Sarlo is still going in the no-losers round, and Dean's coming up soon.
Dean Randazzo: Yep, we have me and Hans [Hagen] coming up when they restart. The waves are looking pretty good today, so it should be fun.
Has it been fun to be here representing the U.S.?
SL: Definitely. I was part of the team in 1992 as a junior, but it's been a long time since I've competed in a team format. I competed in the X Games, but this is different, obviously. National pride's on the line here. This is a lot more core and pure, you get to see developing nations come out, and their energy is just amazing. If you're from America you don't hear about these people. They're not super stars, but they're great competitors and great surfers. They're very passionate and they bring such amazing energy to these events. You can't help but feed off of it. Every day the team's bonding more and more, and we feel like we have a really good thing going right now.
What's it going to take lock in the gold?
SL: Man, you know, Hawaii's really strong, with Sunny [Garcia] and Kaipo [Jaquias] doing a lot of work for them. We're going to have to start buckling down and get them into a repercharge round. They're each surfing in double divisions, so the more we can make them paddle the more tired they're going to be on the final day. It's supposed to be bigger tomorrow and there could be some tough paddle-outs and rip currents, and that could play a factor ... because we're old.
Are you guys meeting up everyday and talking strategy and planning things out?
DR: We just kind of have dinner together every night, sit down have a glass of wine or something, and try to stay focused and go to be early. Ian [Cairnes] gives us a little pep talk, just simple and clean, nothing too in detail.
SL: Most of the work is done here on the beach, trying to figure out the lineup and assess the conditions. We've had different little pulses and changes in swell direction all event, so that's been a big part of it.
|Shea Lopez putting his Florida skills to good use earlier in the event.|
What do you feel like some of the bigger challenges are for the U.S. program are going forward?
SL: Well, the U.S. program isn't really a program. It was Ian calling us up a few weeks before and seeing if we were in town and available for the ISA Games. So it's not like we've had a year to prepare for this. But as we're seeing here, it doesn't take long when you have some of the best surfers from America, guys like Allen Sarlo and Hans Hagen, they've been putting on great performances here. Hans has really impressed me because he wasn't always a big competitor, but his surfing's great and he's competing very well here.
The ISA is our Olympic committee, and they're trying to bring a legitimacy to our sport and to all these developing countries, and it's really great. We had Guatemala over at our house last night, and it's so cool to see the brotherhood of surfing come together ... the flags and the anthems and everything, it's really cool. Usually surfing's an individual sport, maybe you have your mom or your dad or your brother or friends there to cheer you on, but not your whole country. I mean, Dean's one of my heroes. I remember competing against him for the first time, and he smoked me, and now we're here supporting each other.
DR: Not only that, but you have the whole Internet thing, and people watching online, and that's bringing so much more energy into it. Every country is able to get behind their team. There's not only the flags on the beach here, but there's also the flags in their homeland, so it's awesome.
SL: Fernando [Aguerre], the professional and complete package that he's been able to put together to show the world what surfing is really about, it is amazing. He's a great guy and without him this would be nothing. He took this over and put his heart and soul into it.
DR: I was on the team when we won gold in El Salvador, that was pretty cool, and hopefully we can do that again.
This being an Olympic year, what's your take on surfing being in the Olympics?
SL: I think the Olympics wouldn't be able to do a good job with surfing unless Fernando and real surfers were involved, it would be a sideshow. I know from competing in them that the X Games was a bit of a sideshow when it came to surf, and the Olympics could very easily make surfing a sideshow too. There are plenty of sports in the Olympics that are purely sideshow comedy ... lawn bowling? So, surfing if done right is an Olympic sport, surfing if done by the Olympic committee, it's going be a challenge.
How about the difference of competing in ASP events versus here at the ISA Games?
SL: You're one man on an island in the ASP, I got my brothers here. It feels great. I'm having as much fun as I've had at an event. I competed every week of my life, but haven't competed in a couple years now, so to get that butterfly feeling in my stomach, that excitement, it's great. Like with Dean, we were talking about getting everything ready, what are we going to eat two hours before our heat, managing our fluids. We haven't done that for awhile.
DR: It's a great format too, because there's a losers round, so if you have a bad heat it's not over, you can still keep advancing. So it's not like other events, you're not stressed the whole week.