By Chris Gallaway
Outside a grocery store in Nags Head, N.C., a man is talking on the phone with his wife. "They're surfing in kayaks down here!” he says. “No, both men and women do it. The women are just as good as the men!”
Indeed, the town of Nags Head, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is stirring with interest in the ongoing World Championships of Surf Kayaking. Shifted here to Nags Head at the last minute, in the wake of Hurricane Irene, now word is traveling up and down the beach about the international group of athletes competing in a brand of surfing very different from what locals are used to seeing. At one pier a group of diners greets surf kayakers with cheers and takes pictures with them.
This year's Worlds has drawn a field of over 100 competitors, and conditions are conspiring to bring off a world-class competition. The swell is up and has been presenting consistent, over-head waves through the quarterfinal phase. Athletes are regularly pulling impressive air off the surf, and they've kept the spectators cheering with their efforts. The waves have been so consistent that competition is running ahead of schedule, and if things continue at this pace, the final events will wrap up in the next few days.
Participants are describing this Worlds as slightly smaller than previous events, and a few competitive countries such as Scotland and Wales are notably absent. But many of the national fixtures, including England and the Basque Country, have shown up in force. The best athletes in the sport (Darren Bason, Chris Hobson, and reigning open champ David Martin Speller) are on track for the semis after the quarterfinal round of competition in the open class.
There is also a dark horse emerging in the person of Jorge Alfredo Anchorena, the lone representative from his home country of Argentina. Anchorena hails from a nation where the sport of surf-kayaking is virtually nonexistent, and he was a relative unknown entering competition. He saved for a year to buy his second-hand boat, he took a cab from the airport to get here, and now he's competing very well and has advanced to the semifinal round in the open class. All of Anchorena's rides are watched with interest from the beach, and his success has been greeted with cheers from competitors and spectators alike.
Participants are speaking highly of the organization and the quality of the surf at this year's Worlds. With the final rounds of competition rapidly approaching, the excitement should only increase, even for the fishermen at the end of Jennette's Pier who refer to competitors by colorful titles such as "the one in the sparkly boat."
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