(ATR) Surfers from 47 nations will ply the waves of the Basque Country seaside this week for the World Surfing Games.
The number of countries and the 245 competitors are record-breaking for the event, first held in 1964. Many of those who are here come with aspirations for Tokyo 2020, when the sport makes its Olympic debut.
Canadian surfer Leah Oke. (ISA)
“Today we come to Biarritz as the true and only ISA, the United Nations of Surfing, to these World Surfing Games, which are truly the Olympics of surfing,” International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre said in the opening ceremony Saturday. Biarritz hosted the 1980 edition.
“All united for our love for the ocean and surfing,” said Aguerre, dressed as colorfully as the surfers in the audience, if not more formally, with a pink bow tie and a red beret.
Aguerre with surfers and flags from 47 nations. (ATR)
“Our Olympic wave took me personally 22 years of paddling – a very long time paddling, but together we’ve done it and now surfing is both an Olympic and a Pan American sport,” Aguerre said, addressing the surfers.
“This amazing success, is already influencing the development of surfing all over the world. Additionally, this year we will be live through the Olympic Channel, for all to see what I believe is the coolest sport in the Olympics,” Aguerre said.
The highlight of the opening ceremony was one of Aguerre’s creative innovations, known as “The Sands of Surfing.” Surfers from all 47 countries entered the stage, one nation at a time, with one athlete from each pouring sand from one of their native beaches into a glass tank.
Swiss surfers brought sand from Zurich Lake, Russians from Sochi, Fijians from Tavarua, the Japanese from the future Olympic beach venue of Tsurigasaki and the French, naturally, from Biarritz.
The diverse mixture of colors and textures only enhanced the symbolic nature of the ritual.
“In these times of violence, wars and conflicts, we celebrate our union in diversity,” Aguerre said. “We have all come together, bringing our symbolic ‘Sands of the World,’ to symbolize the unity of world in peace through surfing.”
Aguerre announced that the 2018 World Surfing Games – at a site yet to be determined – will serve as an Olympic qualifier for Tokyo 2020.
“We have not approved the detailed plan, but for sure and as requested by the IOC, will include the top surfing stars, but also giving a chance to the best surfers from all continents in the Olympic Universal spirit,” he said.
Ladies First on the Waves
Le Grand Plage Biarritz (ATR)
Seventy-seven female surfers took to the waves on Saturday as competition got underway on a beautiful, sunny, albeit breezy day.
France and Brazil bring the most talented squads at the event, with elite level pro competitors from the World Surf League representing their respective countries.
Surfers are competing for both individual and team titles in Biarritz. French stars include team captain Jeremy Flores, Joan Duru, Johanne Defay and Pauline Ado.
Aguerre with the Sands of Surfing. (ATR)
“One of the best memories of my Surfing career is winning this event in 2009,” Flores said. “Winning the ISA World Surfing Games is different than other surfing contest because you do it for your team and the whole country is behind you.”
Countries competing for the first time at the 2017 World Surfing Games include China, Chinese Taipei, South Korea, Afghanistan, Greece and Senegal.
“This event is where you find raw talent from many nations other than the traditional countries of USA, Brazil and Australia that can truly surprise and compete at a high level.”
Peru is the defending champion, having also won the title in 2014. Defending men’s gold medalist Leandro Usuna of Argentina is seeking his third title, while two-time defending women’s champion Tia Blanco is skipping the event to compete in a World Surf League qualifier at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic venue, Tsurigasaki Beach.
Written and reported in Biarritz by Brian Pinelli.
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