Island surfers have Olympics in their sights

A couple of Island surfers rode home-wave advantage to move closer across the Pacific to Japan and the 2020 Olympics.

Canada’s list of Olympic hopefuls was narrowed to six, plus two alternates, following the national trials at Wickaninnish Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve as surfing prepares to make its Summer Games debut in Tokyo.

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Veteran Pete Devries of Tofino joins Shane Campbell and Cody Young on the men’s side and Mathea Olin of Tofino joined Paige Alms and Bethany Zelasko on the women’s side as the surfers who advanced along the qualification process following the Canadian trials. Those six will now move forward and try to pick up points in international competitions over the next year to qualify for Tokyo. Those who reach the points threshold will join the first class of 40 surfers from around the world, 20 male and 20 female, to become Olympians.

“It would be a huge win for Canadian surfing if we can get one male and one female qualified for the Olympics,” said nine-time Canadian men’s champion Devries.

Tofino surf-legend Devries is relieved to have made the first cut along the process after finishing as the third male at the national trials. Campbell, a surf pro from Sydney, Australia, who was born in Vancouver, topped the trials. Campbell is among a host of off-shore surfers who hope to represent Canada in the Olympics through birthright. Young is from Maui and Foerster from Costa Rica and both have Canadian parentage.

The 30-year-old Alms, well-known within the sport as a professional Hawaiian big-wave boarder, was born and raised in Victoria to age nine before moving with her mother to Maui. Zelasko is from Huntington Beach, California, but was born to a Canadian mother.

“The inclusion of surfing into the Olympics completely changed the landscape of the sport around the world,” said Devries.

“For Canada, it meant that passport holders who grew up in warmer surfing regions are using their Canadian option.”

Bring it on, say Islanders Devries and Olin.

“It raises the game for Canadian surfing and makes our local Tofino surfers perform at a higher level,” said Devries.

Olin is only 16 and considered a prodigy after she became the first Canadian ever to win an international gold medal in surfing two years ago at the Pan American championships. Surfing has also been proposed for inclusion by the organizers of the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, so experts are predicting Olin’s moment as an Olympian will almost surely come at some point.

Olympic inclusion, however, came late in the 36-year-old Devries’ career, and he knows the competition will be stiff among younger surfers.

The Canadian championships were held at Wickaninnish Beach just before the Olympic trials and Devries needed some late-competition heroics to hold on for his ninth national title and stave off strong challenges from Campbell and Young.

“It was the surfing equivalent of a buzzer-beater,” said Devries.

“I laid it all on the line.”

Which is what the Islander must now again do to become an Olympian.

The men’s and women’s gold medallists in the 2019 Pan American Games July 26 to Aug. 11 in Lima, Peru, will earn automatic berths into the 2020 Olympics.

The first in a series of international Olympic points qualifiers is in September in Miyazaki, Japan.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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