The first waves of Olympic surfing can disappoint

ICHINOMIYA, Japan – Kolohe Andino, 27, has never had to go far to find good waves, ones that attract people from afar.

Born and raised in San Clemente, Calif., The son of a professional surfer of the 1980s and early 90s, Andino has always been just steps away from the regular T Street break and the sporadic pumpers of Upper and Lower Trestles. .

Now that he has arrived at the Olympics in Japan as part of the four-person US team, all those years in his hometown could well lead to the biggest victory of his career. Surfing’s debut at the Tokyo Games promises renowned talent but unspectacular waves – exactly the kind Andino has surfed all his life.

“My chances are good, super good,” said Andino. “I grew up riding similar waves, my gear is really good for these type of waves and my attitude towards bad waves is good for me: when I have done well in the past, that’s when the waves are bad, and everyone likes, ‘Oh, man,’ and whining about it. I thrive in there. “

On Tuesday, Olympic surfers got their first glimpse of Tsurigasaki Beach (sometimes referred to as Shidashita Beach by locals) in Ichinomiya, where the surf competition is scheduled to begin on Sunday. The place is approximately 60 miles from Tokyo on the east coast of Japan.

As expected and feared, the waves were small, breaking close to shore in waist-high water. The forecast calls for larger swells, possibly driven by a tropical storm forming in southern Japan, early next week.

Andino isn’t bothered by the uncertainty or the likelihood that the Olympic competition will have less than monumental waves. His father, Dino, a former national champion and world competitor, shared his positive mood. Dino Andino, 52, grew up without much parental supervision in San Clemente. (“With his scruffy beard, his dishwashing blonde mop hidden under a floppy hat, he looks more like Jeff Spicoli than Sean Penn,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1993, the year before John was born. Kolohe.)

Dino tried to be the kind of father he never had, guiding Kolohe through a successful youth career that led to the world championship surf tour at the age of 18. The two stay close, literally.

“If I pick up a rock and throw it three times, I could hit his house,” Dino said.

As for the Olympics, the father does not like to call the anticipated conditions in Japan an advantage for his son.

“But he should be comfortable,” he said.

Surfing has been trying to be on the Olympic program for years and its supporters have been pushing for it to be included in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, a surf spot with world-class waves and backdrop. picturesque.

Instead, its Olympic debut will take place in Japan, a country with a wide coastline but few world-class breaks. It’s more Jersey Shore than North Shore.

There was talk of using the rapidly growing technology of artificial waves, but the Olympics decided several years ago that it was more important to hold the competition in a natural setting.

No one is quite sure what to expect. The format, for 20 men and 20 women (and no more than two each from any country), provides for four days of competition over an eight-day window.

Surf conditions can be capricious, day after day and hour by hour, on the best spots in the world. There are fears that bad timing in Japan could make Olympic competition a failure – at least in the eyes of casual fans accustomed to images of giant turquoise barrels or viral videos of big wave surfing.

The future Olympic Games promise more pleasure for the eyes. The 2024 Summer Games in Paris will hold their surf competition in Tahiti, French Polynesia. The 2028 Olympics are in Los Angeles and 2032 is scheduled to take place in Brisbane, Australia. All of these places, like Rio, conjure up more sparkling images of surfing than Japan.

Tokyo 2020 organizers hope to change that. Tsurigasaki beach has hosted second level international competitions, so some of the Olympic athletes have experience there. Dino Andino too.

“It would be more of a show if it was in Hawaii or Tahiti, where the waves are really big and gnarled,” said Dino Andino. “But very few people would be able to understand that because they don’t see these types of waves anywhere.”

To adjust to expected conditions, the four Olympic surfers from America gathered this month in Southern California, a sort of minicamp in the types of waves they expect to see at the Games.

Four-time female world champion Carissa Moore and two-time male world champion John John Florence are from Hawaii, home to some of the biggest waves in the world. Caroline Marks, 19, is originally from Florida but moved to Southern California a few years ago.

“Carissa and John John grew up in Hawaii – stronger waves, clear water,” said US Olympic coach Brett Simpson. “It’s just a different style. But they’ve spent half their lives competing in California and around the world, and they’re at the top level because they know how to adapt their styles. “

Andino had finished in the top seven in the WSL season-ending standings three times from 2016 to 2019, when he reached the final stop, Pipe Masters in Hawaii, with a shot at the title. He finished ninth in the competition and fifth in the season.

But by then he already knew he had become the first American to qualify for the Olympics. He watched Florence and Kelly Slater fight for the other place. Florence understood this.

Then the 2020 season was scuttled and Andino and Florence were injured in early 2021. Andino suffered a sprained ankle in March, in his first event of the year. Florence was ranked third in the world in May when he injured his knee and underwent surgery.

Andino and Florence did not get back into the water until June. Weeks later, the combination of the unknown venue, the expected small waves and the limited number of competitors left the competition for the medals wide open.

“It’s such a strange and competitive surfing,” said Kolohe Andino. “You could be the best surfer, the most talked about surfer, whatever, and you go out there and you just need a score and you can’t find a wave. It’s like Tom Brady had to go down the field for the winning score and he couldn’t find the ball. “

On the women’s side, Moore and Marks are strong contenders for the medals. The French Johanne Defay and the Australians Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore are among the others.

In men, the Brazilians Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira are the last two world champions and entered in July in the ranking nos. 1-2 in the world ranking. Japanese Kanoa Igarashi, born and raised in California to Japanese parents, is one of those who could upset them. Due to the narrow scope, however, which was primarily defined in 2019, five of the top 10 surfers in the world rankings will not compete in the Olympics, opening up opportunities for some lesser-known names.

Andino is a true surf star, following in the wake of Florence, who is about 18 months older. He won a record nine national titles as an amateur and qualified for the WSL Championship as a teenager in 2012.

He’s part of the generation that brought acrobatics to the waves, with crisp cuts and great tunes, a style that others, notably the Brazilians, have turned into championships. This is the kind of approach that can come in handy at the Olympics.

Yet despite all his success, Andino never won a championship event, going 0-5 in the head-to-head final. “I’m saving it for the Olympics!” he laughs.

He couldn’t imagine anything better. Andino said he records and consumes coverage of the Olympics.

“I am absolutely fascinated by people who dedicate their lives to sport and at that time,” he said. “And I grew up near Camp Pendleton, so I’m very patriotic. It is as if these worlds are one, in an explosion of pleasure on television. “

He is drawn to sports he does not know, such as biathlon. (“They ski so hard, then they stop and pull. The analogy with surfing is padding so hard you almost throw up, so you have to get up and ride the wave, totally focused.”) He was in love. of cross-country skier Jessie Diggins and her decisive success. He can cite all kinds of famous and less famous moments from the Olympic Games, winter and summer, all before surfing arrived.

“It’s so sick, just being a part of it,” he said.

At the time, he still used crutches to move around, protecting his ankle. Soon, however, Andino was back in the familiar water, just down the street, riding the breaks he knows as well as anyone.

He’s not sure what to expect in Japan, but he hopes he feels right at home.

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