Sights set on Tokyo swells after Tweed camp
IT'S not often you hear Olympic athletes hoping for a typhoon during the Games but if you are a member of Australia's provisional surfing team, that's exactly what they wishing for in 2020.
The surfers, Stephanie Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons, Owen Wright and Julian Wilson, have been attending the Team Australia Olympic training camp at Surf Australia's High Performance Centre at Casuarina this week.
The camp has provided the surfers with the opportunity to come together in a team environment and prepare for the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador in May which will also serve as an Olympic qualifying event.
Joining the squad for El Salvador will be reserves Jack Freestone and Nikki Van Dijk.
While the Aussies have already 'provisionally qualified' for the Tokyo Olympics, their confirmation will come by competing at the ISAs.
Tokyo will be the first time surfing will be an Olympic sport and the prospect of representing Australia and competing for a medal has reinvigorated Kingscliff local and six time women's world champion Stephanie Gilmore.
"There's no doubt that 2020 will be the busiest year of my life, with ISA games, the WSL circuit and the Olympics but it's also very exciting," Gilmore said.
"Having competing in the ISA games in Japan last year, it gave us a taste of what we might be able to expect for the Olympics.
"The surf over there at Chiba isn't that big so if would be good if a typhoon were to stay off shore to generate some decent swells.
"But I'm not sure if other athletes or Olympic officials would be happy with that."
Gilmore said the Casuarina camp had brought the surfers together as a team under the guidance of Team Australia coach Bede Durbidge and National High Performance Director and former hockey Olympian Kim Crane.
"It's also be great to surf on the Tweed Coast in conditions that are very similar to what will be normal in Japan during the Olympics," Gilmore said.
"At this time of the year, the Tweed is the perfect training ground for us - we can get use to the format which will be used in Tokyo and get the right equipment."
Gilmore said as a 14-year-old, she remembers watching Cathy Freeman at the Sydney 2000 Olympics and thinking what a real life 'super human' she was.
"Now to be part of such a huge event and to be part of a great Australia Olympic squad representing the country is mind blowing."
Gilmore's surfing team member Sally Fitzgibbons, who won a gold medal at the 2018 ISA World Surfing Games, said that being part of a group going to the Olympic for the first time brought back memories of her early days when she starting surfing in contests as a grommet.
For Fitzgibbon, who had aspirations of going to the Olympics in track and field, the 2020 Games was like "going full circle".
"To have surfers around me like Steph, Julian and Owen - we all started out as grommets competing and now we are at the forefront of being the first to go to an Olympics - it's 'bringing out the grom in me' again," she said.
"I think for us competing on the WSL circuit, dealing with pressure on a regular basis will be an advantage.
"Surfing here on Steph's home turf has also been valuable in learning about the smaller conditions, getting your technique right and making a selection for the best waves."
Developing a supportive team environment has been a bonus of the Tweed Coast camp according to Owen Wright.
"Aside from adapting to the conditions and learning different formats of competition which will be applied at the Olympics, preparing mentally for what lies ahead has been very important," Owen said.
"I think Team Australia is very well-prepared and actually ahead of the game in making sure we will be in the best state for Tokyo.
"There's no doubt that the Olympics will be the biggest thing that has happened for surfing in a long time and to be part of it is amazing."
Wearing the green and gold boardshorts for the first time really drove home for Julian Wilson that he was part of something very unique and special.
"This will be the first time I will be competing as part of a team representing Australia," Wilson said.
"Going to the ISA games and then onto the Olympics later is an amazing opportunity.
"I am fortunate to have a very supportive wife and family who travel with me on the world circuit."
For coach Bede Durbidge, keeping it simple has been a priority of the camp.
"We don't want the surfers to overthink things leading up to these major events, they have enough on their plates with the WSL circuit," he said.
"For me, it is about getting them to think of the Olympics as just another surfing event, even though it will be huge.
"As professionals, they have to deal with pressure in every contest they go in so if we can channel that towards Tokyo, I think we will be OK."
The surfers will fly out with the Australian Olympic squad from Brisbane on July 21.