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World Surfing makes long-awaited Olympics debut at Tokyo Games

09:42  25 july  2021
09:42  25 july  2021 Source:   aljazeera.com

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

a man riding a wave on a surfboard in the water: Italo Ferreira, Brazil, surfs in the men’s round 1 competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach [Andrew Nelles/ USA Today Network via Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Italo Ferreira, Brazil, surfs in the men’s round 1 competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach [Andrew Nelles/ USA Today Network via Reuters]

The action began early at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach, about 100 kilometres (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.

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“I’m so glad to be here, for sure,” said Ferreira, dripping with water and beaming as he stood on the dark brown sand. “It’s special for the fans, for the surfers. All the surfers are watching at home. It’s special for everyone.”

a man holding a frisbee: Italo Ferreira reacts after surfing in the men’s round 1 competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach [Andrew Nelles/ USA Today Network via Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Italo Ferreira reacts after surfing in the men’s round 1 competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach [Andrew Nelles/ USA Today Network via Reuters]

Sunday’s competition saw the start of the men’s and women’s heats – featuring 20 riders in each event. But it also marked a huge milestone for the sport in general, with efforts to get it added to the Olympic programme dating back more than 100 years.

“I cannot take my mask off, but behind this mask is a very happy face,” said flamboyant International Surfing Association president Fernando Aguerre, resplendent in a Hawaiian shirt, straw hat and shell necklace.

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“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.”

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 his bleach-blond hair and mega-watt smile.

a man riding a wave on a surfboard in the ocean: Caroline Marks (USA) surfs in women’s round 1 competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach [Andrew Nelles/ USA Today Network via Reuters] © Provided by Al Jazeera Caroline Marks (USA) surfs in women’s round 1 competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach [Andrew Nelles/ USA Today Network via Reuters]

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.

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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 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.”

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