Let’s do the math. There are 7.6 billion people on the planet and 35 million of them are surfers. Out of everyone who surfs, out of thousands that surf at the competitive level, only 40 surfers will be invited for the first time to the 2021 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan. And three of those surfers are from Costa Rica! That’s 7.5% of the field from a country that only has 0.07% of the world’s population. It’s amazing! So who are these three soon-to-be superstars?
The first is the most ‘famous’ – Brisa Hennessy. Brisa is currently ranked #16 on Women’s World Championship Tour (WCT), the most elite group of surfers on the planet. Due to her ranking she had qualified for the Olympics first. Her surfing skills came from growing up near the tropical right hand point breaks of Matapalo, on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. When she was 9 her family moved to Hawaii and later travelled to Fiji often to surf some of the most beautiful and dangerous waves on the planet.
The second athlete is Leilani McGonagle. Her path to the Olympics was different. In order to qualify, she had to earn a 7th place or better in the ISA World Surfing Games, held this June in El Salvador. 121 women were competing in this event, some of them already qualified through their WCT status. With her powerful frontside attack, honed sharp by years of growing up surfing Pavones, she passed through the first heats easily. But each round had tougher competitors, and with little sleep each night and running only on desire and determination, she battled through to the final rounds of the event – earning her ticket to Tokyo.
Our third surfer from Costa Rica is Leon Glatzer. He also grew up in Pavones, surfing the long left hand point break to perfection. And his path would be the same – he would have to qualify through the ISA World Surfing Games by placing in one of the top five positions. Five spots for 136 surfers, some of them already competing on the elite level, but not guaranteed a spot unless they had a good result here. Since Leon’s family is from Germany he was accepted on to their national team and received the best preparation possible for an Olympic athlete. He trained relentlessly for three years and it showed as he wowed the judges with huge airs and powerful carves in El Salvador. He barely lost an early heat, but then powered through the repercharge heats all the way to the semifinals. With his 5th place finish he earned one of the final coveted spots and will represent Team Germany (and ‘Pavones, Costa Rica’) in the Olympics.
This will be the first time ever that surfing is in the Olympics. It was a dream started by an Olympic swimmer from Hawaii, the Godfather of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku. And now three surfers from Costa Rica will be able to live out that dream. Vamos Ticos!