After three days of youthful, high-performance action at Tsurigasaki Beach, Surfing’s debut appearance in the Olympic Games has culminated with historic Gold Medal performances.
Brazil’s Italo Ferreira and USA’s Carissa Moore rose to the pinnacle of Surfing and forever etched their names into the history books as the first Olympic Surfing Champions at Tokyo 2020.
Their top performances came in the presence of IOC President Thomas Bach, who joined ISA President Fernando Aguerre at the Surfing venue on Tuesday to meet the world’s best surfers and experience one of the Games new, youth-oriented sports.
Ferreira’s Gold has earned him the trifecta of top surfing accomplishments – a World Surf League Championship Tour Title in 2019, a World Surfing Games Gold Medal also in 2019, and now an Olympic Gold Medal.
“All of my accomplishments have been important to me, but I think this Olympic Gold means the most because I was the first one,” said Ferreira. “But all surfers made history here. Every surfer has a piece of this Gold Medal.
“This has been quite a story for me. I started surfing on a cooler top when I was a kid before I got my first real board and won my first event. Because of [my upbringing] I have a lot of passion for the sport.
“I truly believe that the Olympics will change our lives. Not just the medalists, but for all the surfers that competed in this historic event.”
Moore, a 4-time WSL World Champion and ISA World Surfing Games Copper Medalist, has now added a prestigious Olympic Medal to her trove of accomplishments.
“The scale of this event felt so much bigger,” said Moore. “Getting to share the sport with so many people that maybe have never even watched surfing was super special. As a Hawaiian, just seeing Duke Kahanamoku’s dream come true to have surfing in the Olympics is super special. It’s a big time for surfing to be recognized on this level.”
Rounding out the podiums were Japan’s Kanoa Igarashiwith Men’s Silver, South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag with Women’s Silver, Australia’s Owen Wright with Men’s Bronze, and Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki with Women’s Bronze.
Owen Wright’s podium finish epitomizes Olympism, determination
In 2015 Australia’s Owen Wright suffered a head injury while surfing at Pipeline that kept him away from competitive surfing for more than a year.
Wright’s perseverance and determination embodies the values that are shared by all athletes in the Olympic Games, and his podium finish represents the pinnacle of his road to recovery.
“Without my friends and family, I couldn’t have done it,” said Wright. “I couldn’t have done it without the Olympic coaches and the staff here, they really helped me get to one hundred percent and get through that recovery from my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). That’s the reason I’m standing here. That fueled me on to get to this position. As a surfer, a lot of people probably didn’t count me as a medal hopeful, but I had the strength from what I’ve been through. I thank my team. I thank my wife, my children, all of them.
“I have goals. I’ve been picturing myself here with a medal around my neck, and another one is to finish up in 2024, after Chopes (Teahupo’o, the location for Paris 2024 Olympic Surfing). That’s my goal, that’s the way I want to end it. I would love to represent Australia there, being at Tahiti I count myself in every day and I can’t wait for that opportunity for gold.”
Two Surfing medals for host nation Japan highlight growth since Olympic inclusion
The host nation Japan showcased their surfing talent throughout the week, highlighted by becoming the only nation to earn two medals in the Olympic Surfing competition (Igarashi Silver, Tsuzuki Bronze).
Since Surfing’s inclusion on the sports program in 2016, Japanese surfing has shown marked improvement on the global stage.
Team Japan earned their first World Surfing Games Gold Medal in history in 2018, followed by a Bronze Medal performance in 2019, and a Silver Medal in 2021.
Surfers such as Kanoa Igarashi, Mahina Maeda, Amuro Tsuzuki, and Hiroto Ohhara, to name a few, have been leading the charge and demonstrating the emergence of the sport in the land of the rising sun.
“The announcement of the Games here in Tokyo sparked something in Japanese surfing,” said Igarashi, “You can see the evolution of each surfer in Japan. We are accustomed to seeing the Japanese Olympians that are here competing, but there is a long list of local surfers that are benefitting from the Olympics as well.
“I feel like Japan was already on its way up and the Olympics definitely gave it a boost. My dream one day is to use this boost to push more Japanese surfers, more Asian surfers, to be on Tour. Hopefully one day we have just as many top surfers as America, Australia, and Brazil.”
Moore spoke about the legacy of Duke and her connection to his Olympic dream.
“Duke Kahanamoku is our ambassador of Aloha,” said Moore. “I recently watched a documentary about him and really got to learn about his life, how he treated people unconditionally, with love and kindness. He brought surfing to many parts of the world, and it was his dream to have surfing in the Olympics.
“To be a Hawaiian and know what he did, and hopefully share that same Aloha spirit when I travel the world, is something that I would also like to do. I just want to say a big thank you to the ISA and Fernando for all the hard work they have put in to bringing us here today and accomplishing Duke’s dream.”
Typhoon swell delivers opportunity for Olympic Surfing finals day
While some Olympic sports look to postpone their events due to the approaching tropical storm, the Olympic surfers welcomed the increased wave heights that the storm directed towards the Chiba coast.
The third and final day of competition kicked off with the best conditions of the event yet, with 5-8 foot waves and a favorable side/offshore wind. The world’s best surfers did not let the opportunity to go waste, displaying an array of maneuvers highlighted by a near-perfect 9.73 from Ferreira in the Quarterfinals.
The Men’s Gold Medal Match determined the first Olympic Champion in history, with Ferreira facing off against Igarashi in a highly anticipated matchup.
Ferreira got the heat off to a rough start, breaking his board on his first wave. However, after returning to shore to fetch a new board, Ferreira was able to paddle out and regain his composure. Contrary to his previous heats where he resorted to aerial maneuvers, Italo used his rail surfing to put the pressure on his opponent. Igarashi was never able to get a feel for the conditions, and only managed to muster a heat total of 6.6 that was no match to Ferreira’s 15.14.
The women’s final capped off the day, pairing up USA’s Moore against the underdog 17th seeded, Buitendag of South Africa.
While Buitendag struggled to find waves with opportunity that allowed her to showcase her patented backhand surfing that got her to this point in the event, Moore was able to display her world-class talent. Two waves in the 7-point range gave Moore a total of 14.93, leading her to a comfortable victory over Buitendag’s 8.46 total.
ISA President Fernando Aguerre said:
“Seeing the first Olympians step atop a podium with medals around their neck brought tears to my eyes. This moment was one big step in our mission to make the world a better place through surfing. Olympic Surfing has exposed a whole new generation of youth to the sport. Children watching this moment from all around the globe now know about surfing and have their own dreams to pursue. They know that becoming an Olympic surfer is a goal that is possible to achieve.
“I hope that the audience watching – the widest reaching to ever watch a surfing event – could feel the power of surfing, the connection with nature, and the youthful energy that we brought to the Olympics. I hope that the stoke and joy of our sport resonates around the world and shows people how sport can be used to make positive social change. Additionally, as daily users of our oceans, it’s my hope that the rest of the world can join us in taking better care of them.
“Tokyo 2020 was without a doubt a resounding success. We even finished the day with a beautiful rainbow. The future of Olympic Surfing is looking bright with inclusion in Paris 2024, and then two clear opportunities for surfing in LA 2028 and Brisbane 2032. This is a great start to surfing’s Olympic journey.”
Gold – Italo Ferreira (BRA)
Silver – Kanoa Igarashi (JPN)
Bronze – Owen Wright (AUS)
Gold – Carissa Moore (USA)
Silver – Bianca Buitendag (RSA)
Bronze – Amuro Tsuzuki (JPN)