The UST Sununga World Cup Of Skimboarding
By Aaron Peluso
I attended my first skimboard contest back in the early 1980’s. Since that time I have attended hundreds of skimboarding events over 25+ years. West coast events, east coast events, international events… I have seen a lot of competitions. In all that time, I have never seen anything quite as awesome as the 2013 Sununga competition. In my opinion, it was hands down the best skimboard competition in history.
Sununga is located in the state of Sao Paulo Brazil, in the city of Ubatuba. A Sununga competition on the United Skim Tour has been years in the making. The spot has been known internationally for the better part of a decade. Further, the Brazilian’s have done a great job putting out media excellent media from the spot for years, making many international skimboarders quite envious. The spot is widely regarded as the best right hand skim sidewash in the world, largely due to the local promotion of the spot as well as imagery brought back from the handful of international skimboarders lucky enough to have spent time there. But Brazil is a tough place to visit for Americans; airline tickets that cost a thousand dollars plus, strict visa requirements, connections that make the flight times 16+ hours, not to mention that the spot is a good 4-5 hour drive from the nearest major airport. There were always a lot of barriers to making a Sununga UST event happen. In 2013 the new rider based leadership of the United Skim Tour decided to press forward anyway and go for it, and that decision has paid off in spades.
Skimboarding enthusiasts descended upon Sununga from all over the globe. There were participants from Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Australia, Portugal, France, the UK as well as of course the United States. Travelling with the Exile Skimboards team from Laguna Beach, it took 29 hours to reach our destination in Sununga. Temper’s were tested as one delay after another made it one of the longer voyages any of us had been on. Upon arriving we were informed that a huge swell had just passed through completely washing out the beach. Would the sand have time to recover for the event the following week? Would there be swell? Would the weather be ok in one of the rainiest areas on the coast of Brazil? There was a lot to be concerned about after our long journey. Thankfully, we were totally too tired to worry about it and put any reservations on hold for the following day.
Upon arriving on the beach for the first time I was immediately taken aback by the beauty of the place. You drive down this bumpy dirt road with crowded buildings on both sides turning left, then right then left…… and then just as you think to yourself, ‘what is this place?’, you turn the corner to one of the most glorious beaches I have ever seen. The morning light on a sunny day there is simply awesome. I remember looking out on into the ocean, seeing all these islands and peninsulas, and thinking to myself that despite all the media I have seen from this place, it looks way more awesome than I ever thought it would. Unfortunately following the huge swell, the waves were not particularly awesome, but it didn’t matter. A bunch of the guys hopped in the water and tried to pick off a few, after years of waiting for a chance to ride this spot.
As the tide began to come in and the swell began to die out you could see the beach in transformation… minute by minute, getting better and better. Just when it looked like it might get rideable a couple locals by the name of Renato Lima and Leandro Azevedo hopped in the water. We had heard a lot about these two guys as they had hugely impressed every international rider who had travelled there before us, and it took about five minutes for them to do it again. What all the travelling riders on the beach thought was unrideable proved to be a simple matter for the two locals who immediately picked off waves and rode them all the way across the beach, spectators hooting and hollering the entire way. It became immediately apparent that everyone else had some practicing to do prior to the event.
It turns out that the timing and wave selection at Sununga is completely unlike anything I have seen before. When to go and what waves to choose is not like any other sidewash I have come across, and not nearly so easy as other classic spots such as the Wedge or Tenth St. Sununga is its own place and requires the rider to do a lot of adaptation to the spot. On day one there was a lot of frustration and not that many successful rides. It was immediately clear that any pre-conceptions that the travelling riders would show up and start ripping perfect siders was way off base. There was some learning to be done, and thankfully the international riders had the two best teachers in the world with Renato and Leandro.
On day two of our trip Jason Wilson, Mega and Dave Scott showed up. All of them had visited the spot before and jumped in the water to share some waves with their friends from the states and elsewhere. I recall watching Jason Wilson charge a primary double up floater and the next thing I knew he was being carried off the beach. I feared the worst for one of the best dudes in skimboarding but was partially reassured to find that it was a shinner (laceration on his shin, caused by the sharp rail of his brand new board) and not a tweaked knee or worse. I was less reassured when I got a look for myself at the 4 to 5 inch gash just below his knee, cutting all the way to the bone. It was one of if not the worst skim gash I have seen and I felt really bad for Jason to have had that happen during the very first session on a two week Brazil trip. It made it immediately apparent that this wave meant business and that those pretty triangular tubes can mess you up if you are not careful. He handled it like a champ however and after a quick trip to the hospital he was back in his usual positive spirits, but unable to skim for the rest of the trip.
The waves over the following week got better, then worse, then better again. The forecast for the competition week however just got better and better. I never checked it myself, relying on the locals who know what to look for. In the beginning there seemed to be more hesitation: “The forecast looks pretty good for a couple of days then will be too big” or “We should be able to get some good waves the first couple days”. That sounded pretty good to me as the waves were already really fun.
As the contest got closer however, the excitement in the tone of “the forecast” changed quite a bit. There was now no hesitation on the part of the locals saying it should be good, however it did not really hit me what was happening until I got a message from a rider in Rio saying: “you are all *expletive* lucky guys, forecast is looking dope for the whole week!”.
That’s the precise moment I started to get really excited.
Before I knew it, day one of the waiting period had arrived. It had been flat the day before and was flat the morning of, but the swell was scheduled to build throughout the day. The event was delayed until the afternoon, at which point it was decided the contest would not start yet, but there was time to do an expression session for anyone that wanted to enter. The waves filled in significantly as the first heat ran and more and more competitors became interested in signing up. The skimming during this impromptu expression session was top notch and set the tone for the rest of the event.
On day two the pros got started with the first round of heats. To be honest, I can hardly even remember this first round. It was epic, I am sure, but has now been completely overshadowed in my mind by the rounds that followed.
On day three the swell was much smaller. The decision was made to run the amateurs and put the pros on hold. Some very good waves were still to be had during the lower tide heats and some of the pros expressed some regret that the pros didn’t get a chance to skim the fun little waves. Others were simply thankful for a day off to rest their legs. They would need it.
Friday was the fourth day of the waiting period and the forecast said there would be a 1.6m swell, apparently the perfect size for epic Sununga. This is essentially what we were waiting for and expectations were high. Those expectations were dashed upon arriving in the morning as a very large swell was in the water. Locals estimated it at closer to 2.2m, and it was pretty much completely un-skimmable. There was a chance however that with the high tide and the decreasing swell size, it could get better mid-day. So the pros were put on hold for a few hours. Like clockwork, around 12:30, a few makeable ones started to come through. There was nothing that looked ultra-appealing, it was more nasty and gnarly than anything. But there were a few makeable ones. The contest organizers made the initially controversial decision to run a round of the pros. The waves were borderline un-skimmable, and everyone knew it. Heat times were extended from 20 minutes to 25 minutes to allow competitors more time to find three counting waves, and they would need it. As the first heat took to the water many riders were still of the opinion that the heats should not be running. While debating the issue Sam Stinnett took one of the worst looking falls I have seen ever seen in skimboarding competition. The debate immediately turned toward safety; “Its not skimmable!” “These guys aren’t even getting any waves…” and then as if on cue Sam went for his next wave and got a in-n-out overhead secondary barrel connection that effectively put that argument to rest. The truth is that it was dangerous, sketchy and nearly un-rideable. But so is Teahupoo and Pipeline when they are running the best surf contests. For years skimboarders have wanted to be able to run a contest in conditions that push the limits of our sport. It just took some time to realize that we had actually arrived at that moment. For the first time I can recall in skim history, the best skimboarders in the world had serious reservations about skimming in the contest conditions cause it was too heavy. It was new territory for our sport.
The pros hit the water with spectacularly mixed results. Some guys were able to excel and find really great waves while others couldn’t find anything. It was really difficult and challenging conditions, and was exciting to watch. In addition to Sam Stinnetts 7 foot airdrop onto the sand, Morgan Just had a spectacular wipeout spinning 180 while trying to pop over the top of one before getting hit in the chest with the lip and free-falling straight onto the sand. He was lucky to not get hurt. Jake Stinnett was not so lucky airdropping out of my view but straight onto the sand and a loose board. A separated ligament in his shoulder was the result, as well as a ticket to the next round. Stand out rides from this day included primary connections from Leandro, big boosts by Renato as well as Sam’s wave and a numerous macking secondaries by many other riders. The beach was packed and every successful ride as well as spectacular wipeout was met with thunderous applause.
Check out this photo gallery for shots from Friday’s competition:
On Saturday the swell was a bit smaller, the sun was shining brightly, and with the competition down to the top 12 things were bound to get tense. The local favorites Renato and Leandro had put on a show the prior day and no one was sure that it was possible to beat them on their home turf. With the smaller swell, primaries would be more makeable and that played even more to their advantage. As friendly as the Brazilians were the entire trip, this was Leandro and Renato’s first opportunity to compete against the UST’s best, and they wanted nothing more than to prove that they could beat anyone in the world. Oh, and by the way, 98% of of the 500+ people on the beach wanted the same exact thing. So with that, the competition began!
Renato and Leandro again sprung to action catching the best primary waves of the competition so far with Leandro beating Blair Conklin in this three man heat and Renato pushing Austin Keen into the second place seed. Meanwhile Americans Tim Fulton and Sam Stinnett took first in their heats setting the stage for an epic international showdown in the man on man semi-finals. If Renato and Leandro each made it out of their heats, they would square off man on man with whomever made it out of the other two quarter-final heats, and the favorites to make it out of those two heats were UST number one ranked Sam Stinnett and number two ranked Blair Conklin, and that’s exactly what happened.
It was Renato vs Sam in semi number one, and Leandro vs Blair in semi number two.
The stage literally could not have been set any more dramatically. All cards were on the table. Renato and Leandro had the opportunity to beat the two top ranked riders in the world and proceed to an all Brazilian final in their hometown, with literally half the town on the beach cheering them on. Or, Sam and Blair could each win their heats, proving that they deserve their UST rankings despite the expectations of just about everyone on the beach, possibly even Sam and Blair. Or it could be any combination of the above. The tension and excitement in the air was on a level I have only felt in my life a couple of times, if ever. Everyone could sense that something historic was afoot.
And with that Sam and Renato began skimming the most intense heat of skimboarding I have ever witnessed. Sam started off first with a quick but clean barrel off the primary onto the sand. Renato answered with a long sider popping a pair of 360 shuvits to the delight of the crowd and a huge whack off the top of a connection dropping onto the sand (also to the delight of the crowd). Sam picked up a big frontside wrap at the connection but the score on that was uncertain. Renato was in the lead, Sam knew it, and knew he needed a big score. Sam sat with priority most of the heat waiting and looking for the perfect wave as the minutes wore on… as the heat drew to a close a set with a little different direction than the others appeared on the horizon. With priority, Sam got to choose to go, or to wait for the second one. He liked what he saw and took the bait on wave number one. That turned out to be a good call as the sidewash blossomed into a perfect 8 foot wedge allowing Sam to stand straight up in probably the best in-n-out barrel in skimboarding competition history. As he shot up the sand still perfectly poised on his board he knew that was the wave he needed. What he did not know what that Renato was charging the next wave and pulling into an even deeper pit right behind him. If Renato came out he would have surely won the heat for himself and for Brazil. People were standing up out of their chairs as he pulled in and disappeared…….. never to emerge from the other end. Sam had pulled it off, but Renato made him get one of the best waves in skim competition history to do it.
Next up was Leandro and Blair. While I felt pretty confident that Sam had won the prior heat, I don’t think that fact was apparent to many of the spectators on the beach. I believe many felt that Renato had just won and now it was Leandro’s turn. Things were not going to be any easier for Blair, and the pressure on Leandro must have been truly nerve racking. Only hours earlier Leandro and cleanly beaten Blair in the lower tide conditions, the only question was could he do it again at higher tide? Blair came out swinging with a huge frontside 360 air (not pulled) and a frontside alley oop on the sider connecting to what could have been an in-n-out connection, but wasn’t. Leandro was going for big scores on the primary but was getting caught up with timing that was just slightly off and also having some struggles with completion. Leandro finally found what he was looking for with a big primary connection close out barrel. It was a solid score for sure, but then right behind him was Blair on a sider that seemed to be working its way across the beach without end. With no connection in sight, Blair pumped the waist high sider all the way across the beach, anticipation growing all the while as the crowd’s cheers grew louder and louder, and louder still… As he approached the rocks at the far end of the beach he disappeared from view completely. Would he slide up the beach? Run into the rocks? Fall? Simply kick out the back? No one knew what to expect. Then as if on queue he boosted over the top of the wave with a huge stylish alley oop like only Blair can do… the crowd went nuts, even the Brazilians. I couldn’t even see whether or not he landed it and it didn’t seem to matter. The timing of it all was simply too perfect, like something out of a script. The judges seemed to agree, propelling Blair and Sam to the two man final, through the most intense heats I have ever witnessed.
By comparison the final was actually not as intense as the semi’s. The Brazil vs America dynamic was no longer in play so the crowd was not as involved. The sun was starting to go down and the energy wasn’t what it was. But the waves were still firing. Blair got a couple waves but had issues with completion on both of them. Sam got a decent frontside wrap at the connection, and a cheater in-n-out connection. Most probably would have said that he had the lead with the final minutes clicking down, but Sam the eternal competitor was not done yet. He linked up with a solid sider and popped a 360 shuvit on the way out then pulled into a sloppy barrel at the connection. Most probably thought he wouldn’t come out. Knowing Sam and his competitiveness, I thought for sure he was coming out the side. Everyone was surprised when he came shooting out the end of the messy barrel then popped a 180 air and slid up the sand. And that was that – The 2013 UST Sununga World Cup.
- Sam Stinnett
- Blair Conklin
- Renato Lima
- Leandro Azevedo
- Austin Keen
- Morgan Just
- Pablo Marreco
- Tim Fulton
Photos From Saturday
I would like to thank everyone who helped make this historic event happen. Contest director Robertinho Peres, all the judges, tabulators, helpers, DJ, announcers, etc. There were a lot of people who played a part in making this event what it was. Thank you.