NewsKolohe Andino

Home Wave Advantage For U.S. Surfers Seeking Olympic Qualification In Huntington Beach

by Brian Pinelli

Kolohe Andino competes during the elimination round at the 2022 Oi Rio Pro on June 24, 2022 in Saquarema, Brazil.

 

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – Typically perceived as an individual sport where ability, athleticism and artistry on imposing waves are paramount, the team element of surfing has never been more significant than at this week’s ISA World Surfing Games.
Nearly 250 surfers from 51 nations have descended upon the iconic SoCal beach resort with its storybook 100-year surfing history and folklore. But the tides have shifted ever since surfing became recognized as an Olympic sport in 2016, making its much anticipated Olympic debut in Tokyo last summer.
Now, international surfing opens its next Olympic chapter on the legendary Pacific Ocean waves of Huntington Beach. Individual titles will certainly be awarded; however, much of many countries’ focus is on the team competition considering the prize at stake. 
The victorious men’s and women’s national teams will be allocated one Olympic slot each for their respective countries. The qualification spot will be in addition to the maximum quota of 2 athletes per country, per gender, for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
Team USA and other leading surfing nations, notably Australia, Brazil and France, are strategizing accordingly.
“Usually, surfing is such an individual sport and you’re kind of on your own program, but here you get all the merch and you get the flag and you root on your fellow teammates,” said Tokyo 2020 Olympian Kolohe Andino, who along with John John Florence represented Team USA at surfing’s Olympic debut last summer.
“For those countries that have three or four guys or girls in the top ten in the world in surfing they deserve to be there, so for the Olympics to open up another spot for a country is amazing,” said the 28-year-old, well-traveled U.S. surfer. “This week people will be trying their very hardest to get that extra spot for their countries.”
U.S. surfer Griffin Colapinto also highlighted the greater significance of the team aspect of surfing’s world championship.
“It’s super important – I’m just stoked that the contest is here in Huntington and I think it’s a bit of hometown advantage, so we’re going to use that,” said Colapinto, who resides in nearby Mission Viejo.

The U.S. Surfing Team looking on ahead of the 2022 ISA World Surfing Games on Sept. 18, 2022 in Huntington Beach, Calif.

 

Brett Simpson, a two-time U.S. Open champion who also calls Huntington Beach home, coaches the U.S. Surfing Team as he did at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. He stresses the importance of the camaraderie necessary to succeed, noting that team surfing is an entirely different ballgame.

“Surfing a team event is a bit more nervy because you’re carrying more of a load – you’re going for the overall goal of the number one spot. All the guys came in and said ‘I felt a little bit nervous in my first heat’ and that’s a big part of it,” Simpson says. “If you don’t feel that, then maybe you shouldn’t be here.”
Some of those nerves were felt by Colapinto, who failed to claim one of the top-two spots in his opening heat, edged out by German Dylan Groen and Canadian Sean Foerster. The top-two surfers in heats of four advance to the next round, while the bottom two are dropped to the repechage round in a double elimination format.
Colapinto rebounded in his repechage heat with elimination looming. The 24-year-old Californian – who took top honors at the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in 2017 – won the heat with a staggering total of 17.0, including a top wave score of 9.33.
Colapinto’s teammates Andino and Nat Young swiftly moved through the two opening rounds, both notching first and second place results to advance.
Considering Team USA’s solid start, wealth of experience and home surf advantage on the familiar California coast, coach Simpson is bullish on his team’s chances.
“We have three veterans – Kolohe, Nat and Griffin, who have spent a lot of time here over the years competing as amateurs and at U.S. Opens, so they understand this place,” Simpson said. “They understand the break and they understand the circumstances of this event which could mean a lot, and that’s a driving source.”
Team France arrives in sunny Southern California as the defending champions from the 2021 ISA World Surfing Games, which were held in El Salvador. Simpson praises Brazil as one of his U.S. squad’s top rivals, especially considering their calculated team approach.
“Brazil does it the best – even on the world tour,” says the Team USA coach.
“Our goal is to have that also and support each other – there’s family, friends, wives, other coaches, team managers, there’s way more moving parts than just someone just showing up at the beach and surfing.”

Gabriela Bryan signs an autograph for a fan after the opening round at the 2022 Oi Rio Pro on June 23, 2022 in Saquarema, Brazil.

 

While the focus of Team USA and its worthy competitors is driven by the mission at hand in Huntington Beach, chatter about the beautiful, powerful and often scary waves that Olympic surfers will encounter in 2024, in Tahiti, is inevitable.

Surfing’s second Olympic showcase will dramatically unfold on the legendary Teahupo’o surf break, conjuring some of the most famous waves on the planet.
“If you’re not intimidated out there or don’t say you are then you’re probably lying,” says Andino, who has competed on the WSL Championship Tour in Tahiti for more than a decade. “It’s an amazing wave, a very intense wave, but you can also get the wave of your life.”
Andino, who missed out on the medals in Tokyo, eliminated by Japanese American surfing star Kanoa Igarashi in the quarterfinals, is eager for another shot at Olympic glory. Griffin is striving to make his Olympic debut in two years in Tahiti.
“This could be my first-ever Olympics and that it’s at Teahupo’o, such an iconic location, so I really want to make it there,” Colapinto says.
Simpson sums up the magnitude of what Teahupo’o in Tahiti could provide to the Olympic world.

“For the Games to be at Teahupo’o, which is one of the most intense waves in the world – when people watch surfers on that wave live, their jaws are going to drop,” he says.

At least for the moment, the scintillating waves of Huntington Beach, with surfers performing adjacent to the town’s famed pier, are center stage.
The women kicked off their competition on Monday morning. Representing the U.S. is the youthful, but experienced trio of Gabriela Bryan, 20, Zoe McDougall, 22, and Kirra Pinkerton, 20. Bryan and Pinkerton easily won their opening heats with respective scores of 15.93 and 16.00. McDougall advanced with a second place showing.
Men’s and women’s individual champions will be crowned on Saturday, Sept. 24th, along with a pair of victorious countries, which will punch the first tickets to Paris 2024.
Twenty-two men and 22 women shortboard surfers will represent their countries in Tahiti at the Paris 2024 Games. It will be an increase of two athletes per gender from surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo.


Brian Pinelli is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org. Follow Brian on Twitter – @Brian_Pinelli.
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