ISA World Surfing Championships in Playa Santa Catalina

Local boy Oli Camerena takes it to the pros in Santa Catalina!

Panama Team Oli Silver

Like most participants of a sport, the more one practices and improves in a sport, the more one enjoys watching a talented participant of that sport. Surfing is no different. When any average surfer sees a talented surfer in the water ripping the waves apart they take notice. If one is friends with that person who is tearing it up out in the water, it feels good, almost as good a feeling as doing it yourself. Now take that feeling and place it in a setting of a prestigious international surfing contest where some of the globes best young surfers are competing against each other and a talented local surfer at his home break in front of his family, friends and a large crowd of cheering country men is completely dominating the international field of high-paid professionals.

Introducing Jean Carlos Gonzalez or affectionately called “Oli” by everyone in Panama. Oli is a young talented Panamanian surfer raised on the waves of Santa Catalina, Panama site of the 2013 International Surfing Association World Surfing Championships. Every surfer in Panama knows that Oli has talent and it is hard to find anyone that does not like him. Not only is he a ripper, but he’s also a very likable young man. Happy, confidant, focused, energetic and a photo perfect smile, if there is one surfer here in Panama that deserves to break out on the international scene and has the potential talent to make it, it’s Oli! Just turning 18, Oli is young and has a long surfing life yet to live.

Through out the entire contest at Santa Catalina Oli was not playing it conservative and barely getting by advancing through his heats. No, Oli was going for it, blasting huge 360 airs and winning almost all of his heats, leaving behind him a wake of eliminated seasoned professional surfers not used to being shut down by a relatively unknown local surfer that is barely sponsored. It was absolutely beautiful, inspiring surfing.

While eating breakfast at La Joya de Chicá Mountain Lodge near Panama City, Pucha and I watched one of Oli’s heats live on the web. With 28 seconds left in the heat and Oli in fourth place facing elimination, Oli caught a wave, pumped for speed and then busted a massive 360 aerial reverse, landing backwards, fin first, spinning the board around as smooth as a cat. The judges were so impressed he jumped into first place and won the heat! We were planning on returning home to Pedasi that day. Knowing that the finals of the competition were coming up and Oli was marching towards the coveted final heat, without a place to stay or even a set of clean clothes, we immediately decided to go directly to Catalina and support Oli. Decision made we loaded the car hit the road and by the afternoon arrived at the point in Catalina moments before Oli’s next heat. He again smoked the favorites! Pucha has known and supported Oli since he was a small child, he affectionately calls her Mom, so we absolutely had to go and watch him make Panamanian history.

The scene at the beach was truly amazing, every Panamanian was focused on Oli. Oli was being watched, talked about and praised. He was constantly bombarded by fans taking photos with him. Everyone wanted to pat him on the back, shake his hand or hug him congratulating him after each advancing heat. Everyones favorite local was making them proud to be Panamanian. He was representing with style and grace!

Oli finished an unbelievable second place earning the Silver Medal against international surfing talent at the ISA championships. He lost to young South African Shaun Joebert who has one many an international event. Not to shabby to finish just behind this guy. It is not unheard of for a local boy to kick international ass at a surfing event, but it is rare. Oli did what few can do.

Oli carried the weight of the Panama team racking up team points on his way to the final. With his amazing second place finish he earned the Panama team fifth place in the contest, securing the surf team a invitation and all expense paid trip amongst the top seven placing teams to the China Cup. For the tiny country of Panama to place fifth in a ISA contest is huge.

Good job Oli, you have made your friends, family and country proud!

Way to represent!

Thanks to ISA for all the great photos.