Surfers from Brazil and Australia win final Olympic qualifier in warm and windy Puerto Rico

Yago Dora from Brazil competes in the ISA World Surfing Games, a qualifier for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, on Wednesday off La Marginal beach in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo)

ARECIBO, Puerto Rico — Top surfers Gabriel Medina of Brazil and Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia won the final qualifier for the upcoming Olympics on Sunday following nine days in which scores of competitors faced volatile weather and painful sea urchin spines.

The World Surfing Games competition organized by the International Surfing Association began in late February in Puerto Rico with 266 surfers from 55 nations, nearly half of them women. The athletes ranged in age from teenagers still in school to those in their 40s with full-time jobs in fields including engineering and teaching.


The win was especially sweet for Medina, a three-time world champion who announced in 2022 that he was taking a mental health break from the sport. Shortly after the buzzer sounded, Medina emerged from the water with a wide smile as he pounded his heart with an open palm.

Shortly afterward, Fitzgibbons got a ride from a jet ski following her win, standing tall on the back as she raised her fist. Less than an hour before, she had scored big in the final minute of a repechage to make it to the finals.

“All these women are gnarly, training hard,” she said of her competitors in a teary post-heat interview.

More than a dozen other surfers also qualified for the Olympics in recent days in Puerto Rico. Among them was 14-year-old Yang Siqi, who clinched the highest single wave score of the day when she became the first Chinese surfer to qualify for the Olympics. She also is the youngest surfer overall to qualify.

“I was super excited when being informed of that, and I felt my hands trembling,” she told reporters.

Siqi was so thrilled that she was still clutching the golden Olympic ticket officials awarded her on Friday as she watched the finals Sunday with her team.

The start of the qualifier last month saw young novice surfers pitted against pros like Medina, known for his gravity-defying aerials, a matchup that prompted bemused smiles from some spectators.

More than two dozen surfers had previously qualified ahead of the competition in Puerto Rico but still participated to help their country win, since the reigning nation gets an additional slot for the Olympics, which Brazil earned.

Those traveling to Paris include some of the world’s top-ranked surfers like Brisa Hennessy of Costa Rica and those just starting their careers, like Sol Aguirre from Peru.

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