The world’s best surfers have returned to Brazil for the 2017 Oi Rio Pro, the fourth stop on the 2017 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT).
Back in the host country of last year’s Olympic Games, and with surfing slated into the 2020 Games in Japan, the WSL elite have taken the opportunity to celebrate the Olympic heritage in Brazil, discussing the prospect on the broadcast during the early rounds and interacting with some of the nation’s top sportspeople.
John John Florence (HAW), reigning WSL Champion and defending Oi Rio Pro winner, is on the verge of creating one of the most impressive careers in surf history – one (he hopes) that will include the opportunity to compete for his country in the Olympic Games.
“It’ll be super exciting to attend the Olympics,” Florence said. “It’s one of the biggest sporting events of all time. Being able to attend and take in the other events, learn from those athletes, it’s a great opportunity. I’d love to represent my country in 2020.”
Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), six-time WSL Women’s Champion, is back in the frontrunner position in 2017 on the Championship Tour rankings and while she eyes a seventh title this season, she’s also looking towards representing Australia in 2020.
“When I was a young girl, I wanted to go to the Olympics,” Gilmore said. “I watched Cathy Freeman (check) win a Gold Medal in the 200 and that was so inspiring to me. I wanted to go to the Olympics to throw a javelin or discus or anything really, but now I’ve got the opportunity for surfing. Hopefully I make the team.”
Jordy Smith (ZAF), current No. 2 on the WSL Jeep Leaderboard, is the sole South African representative on the men’s Championship Tour and a legitimate threat to the 2017 WSL Title.
“Being here in Brazil a year after the Olympics and surfing in the Olympics is great for the sport,” Smith said. “I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime. I hope surfing puts its best foot forward and we can pull it off. It wouldn’t be a true Olympic Game without the world’s best surfers there. It has to have the best and that’s what makes the Gold special.”
Courtney Conlogue (USA), current WSL No. 4, has been engaged in top-tier sports her entire life. A former athletic prodigy in her youth, Conlogue opted for the professional surfing route and is adamant that surfing’s Olympic showing in 2020 should showcase the world’s best.
“Honestly, I think it’s a make or break – having the best athletes in the Olympics,” Conlogue said. “We’ve been waiting so long and we’ve been patient for surfing to get a shot in the Olympics. To do it right is crucial to showcase surfing for what it is.”
Gabriel Medina (BRA), 2014 WSL Champion and the first world title holder from Brazil, carried the Olympic Torch when the Games came to Brazil in 2016 and is passionate about the opportunity to represent his country in 2020 and beyond.
“It would mean a lot to me, to be a part of the Olympics in Japan in 2020,” Medina said. “Still a long time to go. I don’t know how it’s going to be but hopefully I can represent my country. That would be my dream. It’s really important to have a good wave and the best surfers. Hopefully we get great waves and showcase surfing to the world in the best possible way.”
Kanoa Igarashi (USA), Championship Tour sophomore, is of Japanese-American descent and enthusiastic about Japan hosting the first Olympic surfing event.
“The Olympics is one of the biggest things to happen to surfing as a community,” Igarashi said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for the sport. Surfing is very much celebrated in Japan and I think the 2020 Games will be a great opportunity for the world’s best surfers to represent their countries and showcase the culture.”
Mick Fanning (AUS), three-time WSL Champion, remains a legitimate threat to the world surfing crown at age 35. However, the world-famous surfer is eyeing a supportive role in 2020 as opposed to a participatory one.
“I think it’s great,” Fanning said. “Surfing is such a global sport these days. People from all parts of the world are surfing and if they haven’t got water, they’re trying to find it. I think it’s going to be really exciting to see how they put it together. It’s going to be awesome to watch the younger guys go for Gold medals. I’ll be sitting in the armchair with pom poms cheering for Australia.”
Renato Hickel, WSL Deputy Commissioner, reiterated the League’s support for the sport’s inclusion in the 2020 Games in Japan.
“The WSL is excited about surfing’s inclusion in the 2020 Games,” Hickel said. “It’s an important showcase for surfing and we are looking forward to the sport putting its best foot forward – best surfers, best waves, formats, officiating, etc. Beyond 2020, we’re excited about what the future holds for surfing and the Olympics. We would love to see it included in perpetuity.”
The International Surfing Association (ISA) is working with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the WSL on developing the criterias, formats and qualification pathways for the 2020 games.
The Oi Rio Pro has completed a day and a half of competition and will likely resume tomorrow morning at 7am local time.
Surfline, official forecaster for the event, are calling for:
Easing S swell offers fun surf on Wednesday with conditions most favorable in the morning. The surf looks down for Thursday before another increase in S swell on Friday/Saturday (12th/13th). A mix of SSW and S swells on Sunday eases into Monday morning before a potentially solid swell builds on Monday afternoon into Tuesday. S trending SSE/SE swell is due for mid to late next week.
The event will be broadcast LIVE via WorldSurfLeague.com, the WSL app and on Facebook LIVE via the WSL’s Facebook page. Also check the local listings for coverage on CBS Sports Network in the U.S., Fox Sports in Australia, ESPN in Brazil, Sky NZ in New Zealand, SFR Sports in France and Portugal and as part of the EDGEsport Network.
For more information, check out WorldSurfLeague.com