Surfing’s addition to the 2019 Pan American and 2020 Olympic Games will see future editions of the Rip Curl Pro Tofino and the ISA World Surfing Games playing key roles in shaping Canada’s surf program and eventual Pan Am and Olympic teams.
The Rip Curl Pro is Canada’s largest surf event of the year and is sanctioned by Surf Canada as Canada’s National Championships. The Pro has grown steadily in participation and popularity each year, branching out from what was a primarily local event into this year’s incarnation, which welcomed top international U-18 talent, qualifying tour riders and legends of the sport. Located in the pristine setting of Cox Bay, the three-day competition hits the youth level with a U-12 division and peaks with a women’s Pro/Am and men’s Pro Division, helping to establish a pathway towards the development of world-class Canadian surf talent.
The structure of the Pro has allowed Surf Canada to identify a number of top surfers at a young age, who have then progressed through the junior ranks and into Surf Canada’s national team. In a few short years, that team will soon find itself competing against the world’s elite at the Pan Am and Olympic Games.
“[Identifying top surfing talent at the Pro] has been our strategy since the very beginning when we first started the event in 1988,” Surf Canada president Dom Domic explained. “That was a part of our selection process for teams going to the ISA Worlds. In 2011 we formalized an agreement with Rip Curl for that event and sanctioned it as the Canadian National Championships. It 100-percent factors into our national team selections for the World Surfing Games and Junior Championships .”
Starting in 1964, the World Surfing Games have seen the best-of-the-best when it comes to talent over the past 50 years. The likes of Tom Curren and Courtney Conlogue have captured gold in the open divisions, while Stephanie Gilmore and Gabriel Medina sit among a list of notable names to lay claim to U-18 titles prior to their transition to the World Surf League’s circuit. This year featured a record number of nations competing for gold, with Canada lining up against 46 other countries in both men’s and women’s open divisions.
The timeframe of the Rip Curl Pro and this year’s ISA Worlds played into the hands of the Surf Canada team, who were boarding their flights to France just days following the conclusion of the Pro. Riders Noah Cohen, Leah Oke, Hanna Scott, Michael Darling, Sean Foerster and Logan Landry were tapped to represent their country at the ISA’s flagship event of the year. The 2017 Rip Curl men’s champion Pete Devries was sidelined due to injury.
“Once we found out what the schedules were, it actually worked out really well,” Domic said. “We were able to lead up to the national championship [Rip Curl Pro Tofino] with training camps for the junior teams as well as the national team. We were able to train not only for Nationals but for going right into the World Championships. I think it really benefitted the team for sure in France and without a doubt Noah Cohen.”
Cohen ended his ISA World run with a team-best finish in Round 4, highlighting Canada’s individual results in the event. Canada would finish 21st overall after the final day of competition. It was a step in the right direction for what Domic described as the strongest Canadian team at the Games ‘in literally decades’, due to the talent in the water, coupled with team support from Shannon Brown, Robbie Elliot, Jeremy Shepherd and Miguel Rodriguez.
With an announcement on the Olympic qualification process for surfing expected in early 2018, Surf Canada’s individual and team performances at the Rip Curl Pro and World Surfing Games will begin to take on an even greater significance.
“Without knowing the specifics of the Pan Am and Olympic pathways yet, our overall strategy for the past two years has been to give our athletes the best chance going into the Olympic qualifiers by getting our country’s seeding as high as possible,” Domic added. “Even though our world ranking has remained the same, the addition of other countries shows that we are doing better.”
Domic has seen a shift in the surfing community since the International Olympic Committee’s announcement last August, pointing to an increase in participation numbers, as well as parental and community support. He hopes the positive momentum will help lead to provincial and federal support.
“The Olympic announcement sparked a fire,” Domic concluded. “It was definitely a catalyst for growth…hopefully the increase in support will open up doors for surfing as a career path. The goal for myself and I think everyone involved with the association is to have a full-time, touring professional representing Canada on the qualifying tours and eventually the world tour. The Olympics will hopefully be the catalyst for that.”
With the surfing’s global profile on the rise, Surf Canada is looking to establish additional domestic competitions to support and enhance the development of the sport within the country. Options on the table include preliminary discussions to add an ALAS Latin American Surf Tour stop in Tofino by 2019 or 2020, as well as a ‘Canadian Open’ to help streamline national team selection at the junior and senior levels.
words: James Nielson