Under blue skies and blazing sunshine, surfing made its Olympic debut on Sunday, more than a century after Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku first pushed for inclusion in the Games.
The action started early on at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Tokyo, where the first surfers rowed in favorable surf conditions.
Brazilian Italo Ferreira, the 2019 world champion, who learned to surf standing on the foam box his father was selling fish from, caught the first wave as the men’s qualifying took off.
“I’m very happy to be here for sure,” Ferreira told reporters after winning the first qualifying round.
“It’s special for the fans and the surfers. All the surfers watching at home. It’s special for everyone.”
In the women’s competition, American Carissa Moore scored a difficult victory over Portugal’s Teresa Bonfalot before admitting her emotional victory the day before the event.
“Yesterday, I actually had a little meltdown because of all the nerves and anxiety and stuff that had built up,” she told reporters.
“I had a much calmer feeling than today… Whatever happened, I did everything I could, and now it’s time to have fun.”
For International Surfing Federation President Fernando Aguerre, the morning temperatures were the culmination of decades of work.
“I can’t take my mask off, but behind that mask is a very happy face,” Aguirre said. “I thought it was possible, but a lot of times there were such disagreements against us. Very difficult. There hasn’t been a really straightforward process for a few decades.”
The waves on Sunday were bigger than they were before the competition, with Ferreira saying they presented “more opportunity” for amazing moves.
A tropical storm approaching the Japanese coast helped improve conditions, which could drastically affect the four days of competition.
“Everyone can say that they know the ocean and have advantages or something else, but every wave is different,” said the Japanese Kanna Igarashi. “It’s about adaptation, about who can ride the waves best in each situation, and I think the winner will be well deserved.”
Igarashi, whose father grew up surfing at the same beach, is one of the favorites at home, with bleached blonde hair and a giant smile.
But fans have been banned from all but a few of the events at the Tokyo Games, with organizers worried it could turn into a super viral event.
Large barriers prevented locals from catching a glimpse of the surfers, although a huge banner in support of Japanese contestant Mahina Maeda could be seen posing on a nearby hill.
“I had a ticket for the final, but we’re in a pandemic so it can’t be helped,” a local guesthouse owner, Munharu Yamura, told AFP. “Only people who surf the internet here are excited about it. People who don’t – I don’t think they welcome it.”
There was a lot of excitement inside the stadium, with every surfer entering the Olympic stage for the first time.
“It’s a fun experience, it’s amazing to be here,” said American John John Florence, who failed to pass the first heat but still had a chance to qualify through replay later in the day.
“I was thinking that until 2024, 2028, I hope it will be in those Olympics too. I think it’s great for our sport and I’m happy to be here.”