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Olympic-bound hometown star headlines national surf championships in Tofino

Sisters Sanoa and Mathea Dempfle-Olin will be looking to add to their burgeoning collection of national titles at the national surfing championships this weekend on Vancouver Island.
Sanoa Dempfle-Olin of Tofino shows off her ticket to the Paris Olympics after winning a silver medal at the Pan Am Games in Chile. SURFING CANADA

The national surfing championships are often held on Cox Bay in Tofino but the 2024 nationals have a special air of anticipation hanging over them this weekend as the best boarders in the country converge on the Island community famous for its breakers.

“It’s like Surfers’ ­Christmas here,” said Surf Canada ­executive-director Dom Domic of Victoria. “Surfing is in the fabric of Tofino and this is the biggest event the town hosts.”

A lot of this year’s added excitement at nationals has to do with the presence of hometown Tofino star Sanoa Dempfle-Olin, who in less than 100 days, will become the first Canadian surfer to compete in the Olympic Games. No Canadians made it to surf in the sport’s Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

Watch parties are being planned in Tofino with a big screen to be set up downtown this summer for the public to view the 2024 Paris Olympics surfing competition to be held in Teahupo’o, Tahiti, on the legendary waves known as the Wall of Skulls.

“The town is buzzing about that. It is going to be an amazing time,” said Domic.

“Surfing is novel in the rest of Canada. We are hoping that having Sanoa in the Olympics will have a snowball effect in terms of profile and recognition for our sport in this country.”

Dempfle-Olin is taking it all in stride and said: “I am trying to treat it [Olympics] as another event but obviously it’s not just another event.”

“With all the 100-day countdowns taking place this week, it suddenly feels really close,” added Dempfle-Olin, who earned her spot in the Paris Olympics by winning the silver medal last fall in the 2023 Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile.

“It feels super amazing to have the support of the town in which I grew up. Surfers who came before me here in Tofino have inspired me my whole life — people like Pete Devries and the Bruhwilers (labelled the ‘First Family of Canadian Surfing’). They have been great representatives for surfing.”

So has older sister Mathea Dempfle-Olin, 21, the 2019 Lima Pan Am Games bronze medallist, whom many had projected back then to be Canada’s first Olympian. That it is younger sister Sanoa who will get there before her has been met with nothing but happiness in the family.

“Both of us are each others’ biggest supporters,” said Sanoa, 18. “Mathea has been my biggest inspiration and has helped me so much in all aspects of my life on and off the water.”

With surfing having strong cultural ties to the next two Summer Olympics host cities, the sport has been officially announced for Los Angeles 2028 and will also likely be included for Brisbane 2032 on the Gold Coast. That means there is still plenty of time for the youthful Island sisters to surf together in an Olympic Games. And they could have company as the next generation has gathered Friday to Sunday at nationals in Tofino.

“There is so much talent coming up that we will be on the lookout this weekend for the next Dempfle-Olins,” said Domic, manager of the Canadian national team.

“We have a very young group with a lot of growth potential that has not reached its ceiling yet.”

Most of Canada’s best surfers are on the Island for nationals, including the likes of Tofino veterans Devries and Catherine Temple who blazed the trail in the sport for the new generation upcoming. Also expected to compete are Michael Darbyshire of North Vancouver, Lina Augaitis of Coldstream, Liv Stokes of Aliso Viejo, California, and Hawaii-based Cody Young and Finn Spencer, who along with Temple and Sanoa Dempfle-Olin, represented Canada in the 2023 Santiago Pan Am Games.

The biggest absence is Tofino-based teenage prodigy Erin Brooks, who won a long battle to gain citizenship to compete for Canada, before failing to qualify for Paris 2024 last month at the last-chance Olympic qualifier in Puerto Rico. Brooks, 16, is away at a world junior competition in El Salvador.

But the star attractions, the Dempfle-Olin sisters, will be rolling on the Cox Bay rollers in their hometown looking to add to their burgeoning collection of national titles.

“We travel the world and it’s always great anytime we get to compete at home in front of our friends and family and sleep in our own beds in the town we grew up in,” said Sanoa Dempfle-Olin.

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