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QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 8: Caroline Marks of USA wins the 2019 Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast after winning the final at Duranbah Beach on April 8, 2019 in Queensland, Australia.

ASB MAGAZINE: The first event in the qualification process for the inaugural Tokyo Olympic 2020 surfing competition has just concluded. The Quiksilver and Boost Mobile pro events also featured equal prize money for both male and female competitors. American Caroline Marks and Brazillian Italo Ferrera reigned supreme, followed by Hawaii’s Carissa Moore and Kolohe Andino  (USA). In Olympic circles, that’s one gold and two silver medals to the USA and one gold medal to Brazil. It’s an ominous sign that Team USA are the team to beat.  On the World Surf League Championship Tour (CT) and Qualifying Series, Hawaiian athletes compete under the Hawaiian flag. However, for the Olympic Games, Hawaii falls inside the USA and three-time World Champion Carissa Moore would therefore represent the USA.

Meanwhile, Seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore (Aust) was bundled out early in competition finishing a respectable 5th while  defending 2018 Quiksilver Pro  champion Australian Julian Wilson also exited early. American 11-time world champion Kelly Slater and two time World Chmapion Gabriel Medina (Brazil) also failed to podium.

For surfers like Gilmore, who can earn a spot at the Tokyo Olympics by finishing in the top eight at the end of the WSL season, 2019 presents some unique opportunities for pay parity and Olympic inclusion.

“I’ve never been driven by money to win, but I’ve come to understand the sport has a real power to speak to people on a whole other level,” said Gilmore.

“To set standards and send messages in society that not many other industries have… it just seemed like such a milestone year and it made me fall back in love with being the world champion and reminding me why I do this.”

Becoming an Olympian would be an added bonus.

“I always loved the idea of going to the Olympics (but) never thought I’d get the chance,” she said.

Slater, coming off an injury-shortened 2018 because of a broken right foot, said he doesn’t feel a 12th world title is out of the question for him.

“I was really burned out when I got injured last year, so it was sort of a good time to recharge,” Slater said. “I know where the level’s at … I don’t think that it’s unattainable.”

Slater’s renewed focus has signaled his intentions this year and although he would be 48 when the Tokyo Games are held, has said he hopes to represent the United States.

The Olympic event in Tokyo next year will be held at Shidashita Beach, otherwise known Shida, which is about 60 kilometers (40 miles) outside the Japanese capital in the Chiba prefecture.

The Olympic fields will feature 20 men and 20 women. It is possible that if surfing is extended to the Paris Games in 2024 or Los Angeles in 2028, categories of longboarding, body-boarding or stand-up paddleboards (SUP) could be added. The top 10-ranked men and eight highest-ranked women on the 2019 WSL tour will be among those qualifying for the Tokyo Games.

With the Olympics’ now in the sights of many of the World Tour athletes, many are changing their allegiance to represent their country. Last year, women’s world No.4 Tatiana Weston-Webb announced she would no longer be flying the flag for Hawaii and would be representing Brazil.

“This is a major decision for me and one that I’m really excited about,” Weston-Webb said in a statement.

“Brazil has always been an important part of who I am and, recently, I was approached by the Brazilian Olympic Committee with an opportunity to represent the country in a major way.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to compete in the Olympics and when surfing was announced as an official Olympic sport, I knew that my dream had a chance of becoming a reality.”

Weston-Webb, 21, was born in Brazil to a Brazilian mother and British father but grew up on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Under Olympic rules Hawaiian and two-time World Champion, John John Florence would represent the USA along with Ezekiel Lau, Sebastian Zietz and Keanu Asing.

And for Olympic qualification, the top women’s surfers from the USA and Australia face a big challenge if they want to compete in Tokyo in 2020 with just 20 athletes in the Games, with 19 qualification places up for grabs, and the final spot going to an athlete from the host nation.

However, countries can only send a maximum of four athletes, two men and two women, to the event. On this year’s CT, six athletes hail from Australia, while another seven would be eligible to represent the USA.

In the women’s Olympics line-up, the eight top-ranked surfers at the end of the 2019 CT earn a spot – with the next highest finisher gaining a spot should three surfers from one country qualify. A further six athletes will qualify through the 2020 International Surfing Association (ISA) world games, while the highest-placed athlete from each continent at the 2019 ISA world games, aside from the Americas, will obtain one of five qualification spots. For the Americas, the spot is decided by results from the 2019 Pan American Games.

In choosing to represent Brazil, Weston-Webb will have an easier bid for Olympic qualification, as she becomes just the second Brazillian on the women’s tour alongside Silvana Lima.

“I am beyond proud to represent such an amazing country with so much passion and dedication for our sport. While this change gives me the opportunity to represent Brazil in 2020, all spots have to be earned and I’ll be trying my best to qualify as one of the few surfers able to represent their countries in the Olympics.”

Weston-Webb was the second athlete to commit to representing another country with Olympic qualification in mind, after Kanoa Igarashi chose to represent Japan instead of the USA at the start of the 2018 CT season.

Born in America to Japanese parents, the dual citizen will likely take Japan’s qualification spot in the men’s field, as the country’s current top-ranked surfer.

The men’s Olympic qualification criteria is a touch different to the women’s, with the top 10 at the end of the 2019 CT season securing qualification for the Olympics and just four through the 2020 ISA world games. The continental representation criteria remain the same as the women’s field.

Possible Olympic representatives by country from current Championship Tour surfers:

Women (maximum of two Olympic spots per country)

  • Australia: Stephanie Gilmore, Tyler Wright, Sally Fitzgibbons, Bronte Macauley, Keely Andrew, Nikki van Dijk
  • USA: Courtney Conlogue, Sage Erickson, Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, Caroline Marks, Malia Manuel, Coco Ho
  • Brazil: Tatiana Weston-Webb, Silvana Lima
  • France: Johanne Defay
  • New Zealand: Paige Hareb

Men (maximum of two Olympic spots per country)

  • Australia: Julian Wilson, Owen Wright, Adrian Buchan, Wade Carmichael, Mikey Wright, Matt Wilkinson,  Connor O’Leary
  • Brazil: Italo Ferreira, Gabriel Medina, Filepe Toledo, Adriano de Souza, Michael Rodrigues, Tomas Hermes, Jesse Mendes, Yago Dora, Ian Gouveia, Caio Ibelli, Willian Cardoso
  • USA: Griffin Colapinto, Conner Coffin, Patrick Gudauskas, John John Florence, Ezekiel Lau, Sebastian Zietz, Keanu Asing, Kelly Slater
  • French Polynesia: Michel Bourez
  • Portugal: Frederico Morais
  • France: Jeremy Flores, Joan Duru
  • South Africa: Jordy Smith, Michael February
  • Japan: Kanoa Igarashi