Canada’s top surfers are riding the waves in Tahiti this week, testing the waters at Teahupo’o that will host next year’s Olympic surfing event.
Dom Domic, executive director of Surf Canada, says it doesn’t get much better than Teahupo’o (pronounced Chop-pu) which he calls “probably one of the planet’s top three waves.”
“It’s a real challenge,” Domic said. “And it will be an absolute visual spectacle for the Olympics. A stunning backdrop, obviously it’s Tahiti. Tropical. Big green mountains. Blue, blue water and absolutely crazy dangerous [competition], over live coral, probably a kilometre off the beach.”
The test visit comes ahead of the Pan American Games, a key Olympic qualifier for the Canadians.
The Canadian contingent in Tahiti includes sisters Sanoa and Mathea Olin, brothers Cody and Levi Young, Reed Platenius and Wheeler Hasburgh plus coach Shannon Brown. They arrived Tuesday, taking to the water Wednesday.
Erin Brooks is not at the weeklong camp. Domic stated the highly touted teenager is currently in California taking care of sponsor obligations around the World Surf League finals.
Brooks turned heads in June when, at the age of 15, she earned a shortboard silver medal at the World Surfing Games in El Sunzal, El Salvador.
The Texan-born Brooks, who has family connections in Quebec, has been competing under the Canadian banner as she continues to pursue Canadian citizenship.
That has become problematic of late. The International Surf Association ruled after the El Salvador event she could keep the medal despite the unresolved citizenship, noting she “did not gain any undue advantage in any given competition.” But it also decided that any points Brooks earned for the Canada team should be cancelled.
Canadians yet to make Olympic debut
Surfing (shortboard) made its debut at the Tokyo Olympics, without a Canadian in the field.
Cody Young did get a last-minute call-up to the Tokyo games due to a COVID-related opening. But the Hawaii-based athlete wasn’t able to get there in time due to pandemic-related travel logistics. Only 19 men ended up competing.
While the Olympic surfing field has been increased in size to 24 from 20, qualifying remains a sizeable challenge in itself.
Winning the Pan Am Games, which run Oct. 20 to Nov. 5 in Santiago is one surfing route to the Olympics for Canada. Sixteen surfers will be vying to punch their Olympic ticket on the men’s and women’s side in Chile.
In April, Young, Sanoa Olin and Brooks qualified for the Pan Am Games by virtue of their performance in shortboard at the Pan American Surfing Games in Santa Catalina, Panama. But the ISA subsequently ruled that Brooks’ Pan Am Games spot should be reallocated to the next highest-ranked female surfer from the Americas due to her citizenship issues.
“It’s been holding up everything for her the last couple of years,” said Domic, a former Canadian team surfer himself.
“I hope something happens in time [for the Pan Am Games],” he added. “We can always hope and we’re doing everything we can. We have a lot of people working toward that shared goal.”
Another Olympic qualifying route is the ISA World Surfing Games, arranged for next February in Puerto Rico. And while the top finishers on the World Surf League Championship Tour can also qualify, Canada does not have any competitors on that circuit.
But Canadians have made their mark on the North American Qualifying Series with Sanoa Olin winning the shortboard event last Sunday in Nags Head, N.C.
It was the first victory for Sanoa in her third final this year. She narrowly lost to sister Mathea in February in the final of the SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay, Calif.
Organizing the seven-day Tahiti camp was a challenge in itself, given the need for local expertise and resources from boat transportation to safety concerns. The surfers have to head offshore to catch the desired waves.
“It’s quite a broader logistical puzzle than most spots,” said Domic. “You’ve got to be ready for any and all emergencies that can happen,” he added. “We’re in good hands.”
Funding for the trip came in part from the Canadian Olympic Committee. The rest came from donations and Surf Canada.
Brooks, Young and Sanoa Olin have already surfed Teahupo’o.
Mathea Olin, 20, and Sanoa Olin, 18, are both from Tofino, B.C., as are the 16-year-old Brooks and 19-year-old Platenius.
Cody Young, 24, and Levi Young, 19, were born in Hawaii and call Makawao home but are eligible to compete for Canada through their Toronto-born father. The 18-year-old Hasburgh was born in Invermere, B.C., and raised in Mexico but is based out of Encinitas, Calif.
Finn Spencer and Catherine Temple (Stand Up Paddle Surf) and Mike Darbyshire and Lina Augaitis (Stand Up Race) and Olivia Stokes (longboard) have also qualified for the Pan American Games.
Mathea Olin acquired bronze in longboard at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.