Surfing makes long-awaited Olympics debut at Tokyo 2020

Brazil’s Italo Ferreira and the US’s Carissa Moore emerge victorious in the first surfing heats at the Tokyo Games.

Italo Ferreira of Brazil in the men’s round 1 surfing competition during Tokyo 2020 at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach [Andrew Nelles/ USA Today Network via Reuters]

Under blue skies and a blazing sun, surfing has made its Olympic debut on Sunday, more than a century after Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku first pushed for its inclusion at the Games.

The action began early at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach, about 100km (60 miles) east of Tokyo, with the first surfers paddling out in favourable wave conditions.

Brazil’s Italo Ferreira, the 2019 world champion who learned to surf standing on the foam box his father sold fish from, caught the first wave as the men’s heats got under way.

“I’m so glad to be here, for sure,” Ferreira told reporters after emerging victorious in the first heats.

Italo Ferreira reacts after the men’s round 1 competition at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach [Andrew Nelles/ USA Today Network via Reuters]

“It’s special for the fans, for the surfers. All the surfers are watching at home. It’s special for everyone.”

In the women’s competition, American Carissa Moore scored a narrow win over Teresa Bonvalot of Portugal before admitting to being overcome by emotion the day before the event.

“Yesterday, I actually had a little mini-meltdown because of all the nerves and the anxiety and stuff that had built up,” she told reporters.

“I had more of a sense of calm going into today … Whatever happens, I’ve done everything I could, and now it’s time to have fun.”

For International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre, the morning heats were the culmination of decades of work.

“I cannot take my mask off, but behind this mask is a very happy face,” said Aguerre. “I believed that it was possible, but many times there were such odds against us. So difficult. There was not really a clear process for a couple of decades.”

Carissa Moore competes in the first round of the women’s surfing competition at Tsurigasaki Beach [Francisco Seco/ AP]
Portugal’s Teresa Bonvalot rides a wave during a free training session at the Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach, July 24, 2021 [Olivier Morin/ Pool via AFP]

The waves on Sunday were bigger than they had been leading up to the competition, with Ferreira saying they offered “more opportunity” for spectacular moves.

Conditions have been helped by a tropical storm approaching off the Japanese coast, which could dramatically affect the four days of competition.

“Everyone can say they know the ocean and they have advantages or whatever, but every wave is different,” said Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi. “It’s about adapting, about who can surf the best in every condition, and I think the winner will be well deserved.”

Igarashi, whose father grew up surfing the same beach, is one of the home favourites, with bleach-blond hair and a mega-watt smile.

But fans have been locked out of all but a handful of events at the Tokyo Games, with organisers wary of turning them into a virus super-spreader event.

Large barriers prevented locals from sneaking a look at the surfers, although a huge sign in support of female Japanese rider Mahina Maeda could be seen draped on a nearby hill.

“I had a ticket for the final, but we’re in a pandemic so it can’t be helped,” local guest-house owner Muneharu Yamaura told the AFP news agency. “Only the people who surf here are excited about it. People who don’t – I don’t think they welcome it.”

There was plenty of excitement inside the venue, however, with every surfer stepping onto the Olympic stage for the first time.

“It’s a fun experience, it’s amazing being here,” said American John John Florence, who failed to make it through the first heat but still had a chance to qualify through the repechage later in the day.

“I was thinking that all the way to 2024, 2028, hopefully, it will be in those Olympics as well. I think it’s amazing for our sport and I’m happy to be here.”

Source: AFP, Reuters