Surfing on Doorstep of Historic Olympic Medals

July 26th, 2021
South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag knocked off Australia’s Steph Gilmore with powerful backhand surfing in Round 3. Photo: ISA / Pablo Jimenez

First-ever Men’s and Women’s Olympic Champions to be crowned July 27

USA’s Kolohe Andino bests teammate John John Florence

Bianca Buitendag (RSA) takes down 7-time WSL Champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)

USA’s 19-year-old phenom Caroline Marks earns day-high heat total

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Important links:

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Where to watch Olympic Surfing LIVE here.

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ISA’s Tokyo 2020 event page here.

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The debut Olympic Surfing competition is on the cusp of history, set to crown the first-ever Olympic Champions on July 27.

8 women and 8 men remain in the running for medals, with the finals scheduled to run Tuesday at Tsurigasaki beach.

Among the Gold Medal contenders are proven stars and determined underdogs looking to make their nations proud. Brazil’s Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira, USA’s Carissa Moore, and Australia’s Sally Fitzgibbons and Owen Wright are among the headliners, while surfers such as Portugal’s Yolanda Hopkins and Peru’s Lucca Mesinas will look to knock off the top names and burst into the global spotlight.

Competition will continue Tuesday with the Men’s and Women’s Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Bronze Match and Gold Match.

An approaching tropical storm brought a welcomed increase in wave heights to the competition, but it was also bundled with difficult wind conditions that made wave selection crucial for the Olympians left in the draw. Eight heats each of Men’s and Women’s Round 3 ran to decide the quarterfinalists.

Team USA, Japan, and Brazil all showed well-balanced performances, each with three surfers advancing into the Quarterfinals.

The host nation’s hope of a Surfing medal lies on the backs of Kanoa Igarashi and Hiroto Ohhara on the men’s side, and Amuro Tsuzuki for the women.

USA’s Kolohe Andino and Caroline Marks headlined the day with some of the highest heat totals. Marks’ total of 15.33 was the highest among all surfers on day 2, while Andino’s 14.83 was the second highest for the men.

The highest men’s total was earned by Australia’s Wright, scoring a 15-point total in the final heat of the day to advance to the Quarterfinals where he will next face Peru’s Mesinas.

Top seeded surfers such as Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), Tatiana Weston-Webb, and Julian Wilson (AUS) bowed out of the event, ending their dreams of winning Olympic Gold.

Kanoa Igarashi is among the host nation athletes vying for Gold on Finals day. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans

USA stars Andino and Florence face off in Round 3

USA teammates Kolohe Andino and John John Florence faced off in one of the most anticipated heats of the Olympics thus far.

Displaying his best surfing yet, Andino kicked off the heat with an 8.5-point aerial. Andino’s heat total of 14.83 bested Florence, who couldn’t find a second score to complement a 6.77-point aerial of his own.

“John and I are very honored to compete for the USA, and whether it was ankle slappers or big standup barrels, it was going to be an intense heat and really fun to watch — one for the history books,” said Andino. “I haven’t done a maneuver like that in 7 or 8 months. I surprised myself.”

Florence added, “Kolohe and I surf against each other on the [WSL] tour all the time, so I was stoked when I saw the draw. It’s a fun challenge, a fun battle.

“I would have loved to win a Gold Medal, but I am pretty happy just being here and surfing against the best in the world.

“I am going to take what I can from my experience and learn from it. Hopefully I will be here next time. I would love to see surfing in many more Games in the future.”

Andino also chimed in about his experience at Surfing’s Olympic debut.

“When I watched the Opening Ceremony seeing everyone all decked out [in uniform] and stylish, it was hard for me to sleep after that,” said Andino. “It was inspiration and to be a part of the Olympics is cool.”

Florence now bows out of the event, while Andino moves onto the Quarterfinals in another star-studded matchup with Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi.

USA’s Kolohe Andino nailed this air to start off the heat, putting the pressure on John John Florence. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans

The future of surfing is in good hands with 19-year-old Caroline Marks

USA’s 19-year-old phenom Caroline Marks was the top performer of the day, earning a heat total of 15.33 that included the first excellent range score (8 and greater) in Olympic Surfing history. Marks launched her career with an ISA Junior Gold Medal in 2016 and has become one of the world’s best female surfers. At such a young age, Marks has a chance to compete in many more editions of the Games in the future.

“I am stoked that we have a lot more size and opportunities today,” said Marks.

“I’ve definitely thought about the runway of Olympic Games in my future, but right now I am just trying to enjoy this moment in history. It’s so cool to be a part of this. If I can be in more Games that would be amazing.

“The 2016 ISA Juniors Gold Medal was a really special win. My family was there, and my brother was on the team as well. At that moment I didn’t ever dream of surfing being in the Olympics, but the fact we are here is incredible.”

USA’s Caroline Marks put on the women’s top performance of Day 2, earning a 15.33 heat total with strong, vertical surfing. Photo: ISA / Pablo Jimenez

South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag defeats Gold Medal favorite Gilmore, harnesses the power of sport  

In the first heat of the day, South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag showed her grit and determination to win Gold, taking down Australian legend Stephanie Gilmore. Buitendag put her powerful backhand surfing on display for a global audience to experience the debut of Olympic Surfing. 

“I was in the first heat of the day going against the 7-time World Champ, so I had nothing to lose,” said Buitendag. “I am the underdog with the 17th seed in the event. It’s a comfortable spot to be in. It takes away all the nerves and pressure.

“Today things went my way. A lot of things had to align for this victory. I just decided to control the things I can — good wave selection.

Buitendag went on to discuss how she aims to leverage the Olympic platform to bring positivity to South Africa during times of turmoil.

“We’ve had quite a rough few weeks at home with civil unrest and political situations. I just want to bring some good news home. Sport has the power to do that. I won’t be able to stop the situation with my personal power, but I feel like with this platform I have the opportunity to shine some light during these dark times in South Africa.”

Gilmore looks ahead to Paris 2024

Disappointed in her results, but optimistic for more Olympic opportunity in the future, Gilmore chimed in after her loss.

“Even though you have an opponent in the lineup, you have a third opponent and that is the ocean,” said Gilmore. “The thing with surfing is that you can put in all of the hard work, practice, training—you can do everything perfectly but still show up on the day and the ocean doesn’t give you the waves. That’s what working with mother nature is sometimes.

“Bianca is a really tough opponent, and her backhand is really strong. I let her get a wave under priority and she got a 7. That was the most frustrating thing for me.

“Getting Gold was the dream. That was the goal, my mission. I am super disappointed that I couldn’t make it happen, but there is always Paris 2024. Someone like Kelly Slater is an inspiration to me, he gets better with age. I am only 33, so [qualifying for Paris] is not out of the question. Having already won WSL CT titles, I would love to get an Olympic Gold Medal. I would sacrifice a world title for a Gold Medal.”

Mesinas lifts profile of Peruvian surfing

The last remaining Peruvian in the competition, the 2019 Pan Am Gold Medalist Lucca Mesinas, defeated Italy’s Leonardo Fioravanti in Round 3 to keep the medal hopes of a nation alive.

Mesinas, a soft-spoken surfer that lets his actions in the water do the talking, opened up about his Round 3 performance, showing the powerful surfing of Peru to the world.

“In Peru we have really good surfers, we just need more opportunities,” said Mesinas. “I think we are on a good path, getting better every year.

“There are a lot of young kids surfing really well. And that’s one of my goals, to show the kids that they can make it. I want to make it to the WSL Championship Tour one day and surf against the best surfers. That will inspire the youth. Peru is growing up in surfing and going to do really well in the future.”

Portugal’s Yolanda Hopkins has plenty of reason to smile, as she will look to become part of the historic first-ever podium for Olympic Surfing on Tuesday. Photo: ISA / Sean Evans

ISA President Fernando Aguerre said:

“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. The determination, sacrifice, and pride of the world’s best surfers will culminate with the first Olympic Surfing Champions in history. I still need to pinch myself every time I say that. It doesn’t feel real.

“I have been inspired by the camaraderie, sportsmanship, and perseverance that I have witnessed this week by the Olympic surfers. No matter what unfolds tomorrow, these surfers are Olympians forever. When they go home, they will be our ambassadors of stoke, to spread the love, joy, and power of surfing around the globe.”

The schedule for Olympic Surfing on July 27 will be as follows:

7am Men’s Quarterfinals
9:24am Women’s Quarterfinals
11:48am Men’s Semifinals
1:00pm Women’s Semifinals
2:16 pm Men’s Bronze Match
3:01 pm Women’s Bronze Match
3:46 pm Men’s Gold Match
4:31 pm Women’s Gold Match

The Gold Medal Matches will be immediately followed by the Victory Ceremonies.

All times in Japan Standard Time. Schedule subject to change.



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