Jordy and Sarah Qualify for the Olympics!
Jordy Smith and Sarah Baum yesterday become part of the first cohort of athletes who will be surfing in Tahiti next year at the Paris Olympic Games after the other South Africans fell away in El Salvador.
A rising, long-period 6-8 foot swell with double-overhead waves raised stakes throughout the day as Paris 2024 Olympic Games qualification hung in the balance for most of the surfers left in the draw of the 2023 Surf City El Salvador ISA World Surfing Games (WSG).
Jordy became the first surfer to officially qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games through the 2023 WSG after Teva Bouchgua (MAR) was eliminated in Repechage Round 6. Though Smith also has a strong likelihood to qualify through the WSL CT, he was relieved to confirm his slot in El Salvador. This will be the veteran campaigner’s first Olympics, after his withdrawal from Tokyo 2020 due to injury.
“The guarantee is always the best option,” Smith said. “For me it’s overwhelming to be able to qualify now. Having the opportunity to surf at Teahupo’o is going to be insane. I’ve been going there since I was 14-years-old, so I’ve got a lot of experience. Hopefully mother nature plays ball on those days and we come away with gold.”
If Smith qualifies via the World Surf League Championship Tour, which he looks set to, then his slot will go to the next eligible ranked surfer in the 2023 WSG regardless of continent. Matthew McGillivray and Joshe Faulkner, both fell in Repecharge 5 to clear the way for Jordy from a Saffa perspective.
Smith’s teammate Sarah Baum (RSA) has had a longer journey to the top level of international sport. After nearly qualifying for the WSL CT multiple times in her late teens, it took the 29-year-old over a decade, including many years away from competing, to finally reach the pinnacle and qualify for the Olympic Games. It was an emotional moment for her when when she received her official qualification card, to cheers, hugs and vuvuzelas.
“Honestly, I’m so lost for words,” Baum said. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster the last week, so to finally do it and have the whole team here, the flags are flying everywhere, everyone is screaming, it’s just a dream come true. I’m so happy. I can’t wait to just go get barrelled.” Sarah made it as far as Repecharge 7, the furthest South African in the competition ahead of Zoe Steyn (Repecharge 4) and Danielle Powis (Repercharge 2).
Five of the eight Olympic slots on offer in the 2023 WSG were claimed, with multiple scenarios playing out across the two podiums, often between members of the same team looking for the single continental qualification slot available.
The three remaining slots will go to a man from Asia, and both a man and woman from Europe. Three surfers remain in contention for Asia, 2022 ISA WSG Gold Medalist and Olympic Silver Medalist Kanoa Igarashi (JPN), 2022 ISA WSG Silver Medalist Rio Waida (INA) and Reo Inaba (JPN). Whoever places highest in the event will claim the slot. Five European men, representing five different countries, remain in contention, along with six European women representing four countries. Each of the women are still in the Main Round.
As each of the other women chasing the slot for Asia were eliminated one-by-one over the course of the Repechage rounds, Japan’s Shino Matsuda (JPN) was thrilled to qualify for the second time.
After losing her provisional Tokyo 2020 slot at the 2021 WSG, it was sweet redemption for Matsuda to be the first surfer from Japan to officially qualify for Paris 2024. The 20-year-old is also happy to have time to prepare for the waves of Teahupo’o, Tahiti, the venue for Surfing in Paris 2024.
“I’m really happy to get the qualification a year before the Olympics is going to happen,” Matsuda said. “Teahupo’o is a very challenging venue, so I would like to prepare over the coming year to be able to get good waves there.”
The Oceania slot came down to New Zealand teammates Saffi Vette and Paige Hareb. At the beginning of the day Hareb was still in the main draw, however a knee injury sustained during her Main Round 3 heat left her unable to compete at her best and she was relegated to Repechage. Meanwhile, Vette snuck through four Repechage heats in a row with buzzer beaters, surprising even herself to end up ahead of Hareb and claim the slot.
“I’m obviously excited, but really terrified too,” Vette said. “I’ve never been to Tahiti before. I’m really excited to give it a red hot crack. I’m ready, I guess. Ready as I’ll ever be!”
Though it will be the second Olympic Games for Billy Stairmand (NZL), the emotions were still high. “Second time around, but it feels exactly the same as the first time,” Stairmand said. “It’s been a long journey to get back here.”
The 33-year-old came extremely close to beating eventual Gold Medalist Italo Ferreira (BRA) in Round 3 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. “I feel like in Tokyo I kind of left a little bit out there. I’m looking forward to Tahiti and to pushing my limits again and hopefully throwing myself over the ledge and getting some good barrels and hopefully progressing and getting a medal for New Zealand.”
Based on the updated Qualification System for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, all slots earned at the 2023 Surf City El Salvador ISA World Surfing Games are confirmed and cannot be replaced in later qualifying events. All qualification places are subject to nomination by the respective National Olympic Committee (NOC) and each eligible CT surfer meeting the ISA Olympic Eligibility Requirements.