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After memorable surfing championships in El Salvador, focus shifts to Olympics

A surfer rides a wave Thursday during the ISA World Surfing Games at Surf City in El Salvador.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The wait is over for Yolanda Sequeira, who finished second Sunday in the ISA World Surfing Games, grabbing one of the final seven women’s berths in this first-ever Olympic surfing competition.

Now another one begins as Sequeira waits to find out whether the Tokyo Games, the first to include surfing, will go forward next month. The Olympics, originally scheduled for 2020, were postponed a year by COVID-19, and now, with much of Japan under a state of emergency because of the pandemic, the delayed Games are again in doubt less than seven weeks from the Opening Ceremony.

“It is not fair, but we’re living in a weird world,” said Sequeira, 23, who competes for her father’s native Portugal but speaks English with a heavy accent she picked up from her British mother. “I just hope everything starts going back to normal and we can learn how to live with this problem we have.”

A stretch of Salvadoran shoreline called Surf City is the location for the final qualifying rounds for surfing’s debut as an Olympic sport this summer.

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Surfing’s inclusion in the Tokyo Games caps a two-decade-long push by Fernando Aguerre, the president of the International Surfing Association. The competition will include 20 women and 20 men — “perfect gender equality,” Aguerre said Sunday — who qualified in four competitions, ending with the eight-day World Surfing Games at La Bocana and El Sunzal beaches in El Salvador.

The final 12 Olympic spots — seven for women and five for men — were decided in the eight-day competition, which drew 256 athletes from 51 nations. However, the best surfer in the event, Joan Duru, did not qualify for Tokyo despite claiming the men’s world championship Sunday. Each country is allowed to send no more than two male and two female surfers to the Olympics, and Duru surfs for France, which had already qualified Jeremy Flores and Michel Bourez, both of whom Duru beat in El Salvador.

Ryan Huckabee, who finished 22nd, was the top-placing American male, while Alyssa Spencer, in seventh, was the top U.S. woman. Neither was chasing Olympic berths because the U.S. has already qualified Kolohe Andino and John John Florence on the men’s side and Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks on the women’s side.

Moore is ranked No. 1 in the world.

The women’s world championship went to Australia’s Sally Fitzgibbons, 30, who is ranked second to Moore. She had earlier assured herself a spot in Japan and came to El Salvador chasing a world title.

“It was so tough this weekend. It was a credit to all the Olympians going to Tokyo,” she said. “I’m so stoked for them, and I can’t wait to compete against them again in a couple months.

“My dream’s always been to win that world title, and now to win a gold medal for Australia. I know I’ve got what it takes.”

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But now she too must wait for the opportunity to prove.

“It’s not that you deserve anything for hard work,” she said. “A lot of people say you put in all these years, you deserve a certain this or that. But really I think it’s all for us to just show up and experience. So no matter what’s in front of me, I’m really grateful for that opportunity.

“I don’t know when the next one will come.”

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