A few years ago, when the Cigar Smoking World Championship wasn’t as huge as it is today, I read about the event. And my first reaction was “cigar smoking is about relaxation, competition and cigars don’t go together”. And I was pretty vocal about that on social media. Dutch people are known for their directness, and I am a prime example of that. I don’t sugarcoat things, and I speak up, or out, things we don’t like. I didn’t know founder Marko Bilic back then but got some heat from mutual friends for voicing my opinion. But that’s fine too, I mean, if you speak out you must be able to handle some opposition too.
Fast forward a few months later. I’m at the Intertabac trade show, and Marko sees me. And I thought “oh, here we go” but Marko gives me a big hug and says “I heard so much about you, nice to finally meet you”. So I say “you know who I am right, and what I said about your event?” and Marko replied, “Yes, but that doesn’t matter, I respect your opinion.” Since that, Marko and I became friends. So when I read he was coming to Kuala Lumpur for a CSWC Qualifier I decided to take the opportunity to explore the Malaysian capital and visit the event. And I promised Marko and Samuel Spurr who’s part of the Malaysian organization, that if the event wasn’t sold out I would enter to support them.
Including me, seventeen people registered as participants. There were three no-shows, so fourteen contestants were fighting for the prizes. But even the losers were winners. All participants received a five-count travel humidor, a Cigar Journal magazine, two cigars and the competition cigar for the price of 285 ringgit (approximately €61,50). And next to the competitors, a lot of supporters showed up, filling the Astor Bar at the St. Regis hotel.
Macanudo is the official sponsor for the event, the Mareva sized cigars are rolled by the five best rollers from General Cigars on the Dominican Republic. Right after rolling the cigars are packed into ziplock backs with Boveda packs to ensure that they arrive at the event in perfect condition. And the blend is a tweaked blend version from the Macanudo Inspirado. And since this year marks the 10th anniversary of the CSWC, the rings have a special logo too.
As it is a competition, there are rules. You get one minute to cut the cigar. You get another minute to light the cigar and for that, you get two long matches. In the first five minutes, you’re not allowed to talk or drink. The first forty minutes you cannot ash the cigar. Blowing the cigar to keep the burn going is against the rules too, just like resting it on the ashtray. And if you ash the cigar within the first forty minutes, penalty minutes are deducted from your smoking time. The final rule is that you can’t burn the ring. And to prevent cheating, the ring is glued to the cigar. If the cigar goes out, you’re out of the competition.
I’m a slow smoker, but would I be slow enough to compete for one of the three prizes? My guess was no, so I figured no Dupont lighter, Les Fines Lames cigar knife or Cuervo y Sobrinos watch for me. But I did want to beat my friends that were also competing. I did not practice before the event, and I had one strategy. Keep the burn straight, and smoke slow. And it worked. I finished fifth, with a time of an hour and twenty-five minutes. And for the last fifteen minutes, I made short quick puffs, enough to keep the filler burning without the wrapper as I reached the ring and I didn’t want to burn it.
Much to my surprise, I did get competitive. I kept eying my friends, to see how their progress was. And I enjoyed it. Both the cigar, another surprise since I’m not a fan of the Macanudo Inspirado blend, and the competition. And with my fifth spot, I reached my personal goal and I beat Samuel, Firdous, Matthew, Junyu, and Jay. But most of all, I had fun. I had a great night.
The top three of the competition were winner Yadie Dayana from Indonesia. Dayana has a cigar shop at the Grandhika Iskandarsyah hotel in Jakarta and owns his own cigar brand, Dayana, longfillers made in Indonesia. The second place was also for Indonesia, Farid Herman. The third place was for Europe. Andreas M. Vogiatzakis from Greece, but based in Malaysia won the Dupont lighter.
Now, the big question: did entering the competition change my opinion about the event? Yes and no. A serious competition cigar smoking is something I still don’t understand. Cigar smoking for me is about relaxation and socializing. But if you see it as a fun night out with friends, old ones and new ones, then it’s a whole different thing. The atmosphere was great, I enjoyed the whole experience tremendously. I had my friends there, I made new friends, everybody bonded over cigars. And in that way, the Cigar Smoking World Championship is a huge success with almost forty qualifiers all over the world. And I will tell you one thing, I will enter again next year, just for the fun of it.
Thank you Astor Bar at St. Regis for hosting, Trinidad Cigar Group for organizing the Kuala Lumpur qualifier and Marko for the Cigar Smoking World Championship. You proved me wrong my friend! And for that I credit you.