Surfers officially joined the action at the Tokyo 2020 Games on July 25, riding the historic first waves ever in Olympic competition.
The world’s best surfers hailing from 18 countries around the globe took to the water at Tsurigasaki beach to display the youthful, high-performance values of Surfing to the widest global audience to ever witness the sport.
Two of the biggest stars in surfing were the standout performers. Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore and Brazil’s Italo Ferreira took the highest heat totals for the women’s and men’s divisions, respectively.
Gilmore earned an impressive 14.5 heat total – the highest of the day among all surfers – to advance straight into Round 3 where she will match up against South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag in the single elimination format.
Ferreira got the historic first-ever Olympic Surfing heat of the day off to a blazing start with an assortment of aerials that earned him a 13.67 total. He advanced through the heat alongside Japan’s Hiroto Ohhara, forcing Argentina’s Leandro Usuna and Italy’s Leonardo Fioravanti to surf again in Round 2.
“I am so stoked. It’s a special event,” said Ferreira. “I have been training a lot for the past couple months, so I am glad to finally be here.
“That was a good heat just to put pressure on [the other competitors] and try to impress the judges, see how they score.
“Being an Olympian is special to everyone, especially the surfers. I am happy to be a part of this history.”
The opening day of competition featured the first two rounds – where the top two placing surfers in Round 1 advanced straight into Round 3, and the bottom two went to the first elimination heats of Round 2. Round 2 featured 5-surfer heats where the top 3 surfers advanced and the bottom 2 were eliminated from the event.
As a result, 4 men and 4 women were eliminated from the competition, leaving 16 men and 16 women left to vie for Gold.
On the men’s side, Manuel Selman (CHI), Carlos Muñoz (CRC), Leon Glatzer (GER), and Leandro Usuna(ARG) had their runs in the event come to an end. For the women, Dominic Barona (ECU), Leilani McGonagle (CRC), Daniella Rosas (PER) and Anat Lelior (ISR) were the four surfers eliminated from the event.
USA’s John John Florence lost his footing early and did not advance top 2 in his Round 1 heat, however he redeemed himself in Round 2 with solid surfing, earning a 12.77 heat total to keep his Olympic medal hopes alive.
Florence’s Round 1 flub has created a dramatic situation in the seeding for Round 3, as he will face teammate Kolohe Andino in a two-man elimination heat.
The reigning ISA World Surfing Games Women’s Gold Medalist Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) continued the strong form that she has displayed in 2021. She took first place in her heat to advance to Round 3 where she will surf against France’s 2017 ISA World Surfing Games Gold Medalist Pauline Ado.
Women’s Round 2 Heat 1 had a dramatic scoring scenario that determined who was eliminated from the competition. With the top three surfers advancing, Leilani McGonagle (CRC) and Mahina Maeda (JPN) finished the heat in a virtual tie for third place, both with the same top two wave scores of 4.83 and 4.8. To break the tie, the surfers’ third wave score was factored in. Mahina’s score of 4.6 gave her the nod ahead of McGonagle’s 4.27.
Japan’s Ohhara rides swell of hometown support
Japan’s Hiroto Ohhara put on an impressive performance in the first heat of the day, making the most of the historic moment at the wave that he grew up surfing.
Ohhara placed second in his Round 1 heat, skipping the Round 2 elimination round, and advancing onto Round 3.
“This is my hometown. This is where I grew up,” said Ohhara. “I am stoked to have the Olympics at my home break.
“I think knowing this wave gives me an advantage, especially today. A lot of people are struggling to do some turns and airs, but I am used to these conditions. These are typical conditions when the wind direction is like this. This is how I learned how to do airs.
“With all the people supporting me here, it feels amazing to be an Olympian.”
Carissa Moore proud to represent her country
Team USA surfer and 4-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore performed well with a 11.74 heat total that earned her a first-place finish in Round 1.
“It’s crazy!” said Moore following her win in the inaugural women’s Olympic surfing heat. “I’ve never had so much USA gear before, but I am very proud to be representing the red, white and blue. There’s been multiple special moments leading up to this that I am going to cherish for the rest of my life.”
When asked about the emotions she felt as her name was being announced to compete as an Olympian, Moore replied, “I was trying not to cry! I was thinking of my family because they had a watch party at home, so I was thinking about how they are here with me, and I felt them. This is a culmination of my whole life, and I wouldn’t be here today without the community of people behind me — I think that is why it is extra special.
“First heats are always a little nerve wracking for me in any event. It feels good to come out on top, [remind myself] that I’m okay and I do know how to surf. Hopefully I will build momentum from here.”
Boukhiam aims to grow African Surfing
The lone African male surfing in the event, Morocco’s Ramzi Boukhiam, put on an underdog performance, defeating the two-time WSL CT Champion Florence(USA).
Boukhiam hopes to utilize his Olympic platform to develop the sport in Morocco and beyond.
“I am super proud to represent my country,” said Boukhiam. “We have great waves, a lot of potential kids with talent.
“I hope that being the first Olympic surfer in Morocco, and one of the few who surfs for a living, motivates the kids and pushes the sponsors to support them. I just try to do my best to represent my country and be a role model. I hope it works.
“I thought I was going to be nervous, but I felt great. I had no nerves and I made it, that’s most important.”
Daniella Rosas rises from ISA Scholarship ambassador to the top of surfing.
Peru’s Daniella Rosas was one of the surfers eliminated on July 25, yet having completed an improbable climb to the pinnacle of surfing at just 19 years of age was an accomplishment in itself for her young career.
Rosas’s journey started with the support of the ISA Scholarship Program in 2016 – a program designed to provide financial aid to U-18 surfers to support their surfing and education.
Then in 2019 she earned the Gold Medal at the Pan American Games, earning a ticket to Tokyo 2020. At the 2021 ISA World Surfing Games, she earned a Copper Medal and elevated the hierarchy of her Olympic qualification slot.
“This journey has been amazing,” said Rosas. “I actually didn’t expect to be here. Winning the Pan Am Games was a big step for me. Now everyone knows my name.
“This has been amazing for me and my career. I am so proud of myself. I am just happy to be here and representing my country.”
ISA President Fernando Aguerre said: “We did it! The first day of Olympic Surfing has now been written into the history books. We will be talking about this moment for years to come with our kids, our kids’ kids.
“Duke Kahanamoku said he wanted this, but for nearly 80 years nothing was done. I am sure he is smiling down on us all now. The joy of surfing today has reached new people, young and old. The seed of Olympic dreams has been planted in the minds of children all around the globe.
“Day 1 was just a taste of the action and drama that we have coming up this week. We’re all looking forward to continuing the path towards the first Olympic Surfing medals.”
The schedule for Olympic Surfing on July 26 will be as follows:
7am – 11:42am: Women’s Round 3 Heats 1-8
11:48am – 16:30pm: Men’s Round 3 Heats 1-8
All times in Japan Standard Time.