ICHINOMIYA, Japan – Kolohe Andino, 27, never had to go far to find good waves that draw people from far away.
Born and raised in San Clemente, California, the son of a professional surfer from the 1980s and early 90s, Andino was always a short walk from the constant break on T Street and the sporadic pumps in Upper and Lower Trestles.
Now that he’s made it to the Olympics in Japan as part of the US team of four, all those years in his hometown could lead to the biggest win of his career. Surfing debut at the Tokyo Games promises well-known talent but unspectacular waves – exactly the kind Andino has surfed all his life.
“My chances are good, super good,” said Andino. “I grew up with similar waves, my gear is really good for those types of waves, and my attitude towards bad waves is good for me: if I’ve done good in the past, the waves are bad and everyone likes, ‘Oh ‘Man’ and moan about it. That’s where I thrive. “
On Tuesday, Olympic surfers got their first look at Tsurigasaki Beach (sometimes called Shidashita Beach by locals) in Ichinomiya, where the surfing competition is slated to begin on Sunday. The venue is about 60 miles from Tokyo on the east coast of Japan.
As predicted and feared, the waves were small and broke in waist-high water near the shore. The forecast is for larger waves that may be triggered by a tropical storm forming south of Japan early next week.
Andino doesn’t mind the uncertainty or the likelihood that the Olympic competition will have less than monumental waves. His father Dino, a former national champion and World Tour competitor, shared his positive mood. Dino Andino, 52, grew up in San Clemente without much parental supervision. (“With his unkempt beard, the dishwater-blond mop under a slouch hat, he looks more like Jeff Spicoli than Sean Penn,” wrote the Los Angeles Times in 1993, a year before Kolohe was born.)
Trying to be the kind of father he never had, Dino led Kolohe through a stellar youth career that led to the World Surf League championship tour at the age of 18. The two literally stay close.
“If I pick up a stone and throw it three times, I could hit his house,” said Dino.
As for the Olympics, the father doesn’t like to call the expected conditions in Japan an advantage for his son.
“But he should be fine,” he said.
Surfing has been trying to get into the Olympic program for years, and its supporters have been pushing for it to be included in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, a surfing hotspot with world-class waves and a picturesque backdrop.
Instead, his Olympic debut will take place in Japan, a country with an expansive coastline but few world-class interruptions. It’s more Jersey Shore than North Shore.
There was talk of using the fast-growing artificial wave technology, but the Olympics decided a few years ago that it was more important to compete in a natural setting.
Nobody is sure what to expect. The format for 20 men and 20 women (and no more than two from each from each country) is four days of competition over an eight-day time window.
Surfing conditions can be inconsistent day after day and hour after hour at the world’s best breaks. There is concern that poor timing in Japan could turn the Olympic competition into a dud – at least in the eyes of casual fans who are used to pictures of giant turquoise barrels or viral videos of big wave surfing.
The Olympic Games of the future promise more eye candy. The 2024 Summer Games in Paris will host their surfing competition in Tahiti, French Polynesia. The Olympic Games will be held in Los Angeles in 2028 and in Brisbane, Australia in 2032. All of these places, like Rio, evoke more sparkling images of surfing than Japan.
Tokyo 2020 organizers hope to change that. Tsurigasaki Beach has hosted international second class competitions, so some of the Olympic athletes have experience there. Dino Andino too.
July 20, 2021, 6:35 p.m. ET
“It would be more of a spectacle if it were in Hawaii or Tahiti, where the waves are really big and gnarled,” said Dino Andino. “But very few people could do anything with it because they don’t see these types of waves anywhere.”
To adapt to the anticipated conditions, the four US Olympic surfers have gathered in Southern California this month, a kind of mini camp in the waves that await them at the Games.
Four-time women’s world champion Carissa Moore and two-time men’s world champion John John Florence are from Hawaii, home to some of the world’s biggest waves. Caroline Marks, 19, is from Florida but settled in Southern California a few years ago.
“Carissa and John John grew up in Hawaii – stronger waves, clear water,” said US Olympic trainer Brett Simpson. “It’s just a different style. But they have spent half their lives competing in California and around the world, and they are of the highest order because they can customize their style. “
Andino was three times in the top 7 of the WSL standings at the end of the season from 2016 to 2019 when he arrived at the final stop of the Pipe Masters in Hawaii, with a chance for the title. He finished ninth in the competition and fifth for the season.
Basics of the Summer Olympics
But by then he already knew that he had become the first American to qualify for the Olympics. He watched Florence and Kelly Slater fight for the other place. Florence got it.
Then the 2020 season was sunk and both Andino and Florence were injured in early 2021. Andino suffered a high ankle sprain at his first event of the year in March. Florence was ranked third in the world in May when he injured his knee and had an operation.
Andino and Florence didn’t go back into the water until June. Weeks later, the combination of the unfamiliar location, the expected small waves and the limited number of participants left the competition for medals wide open.
“It’s so weird to surf competitively,” said Kolohe Andino. “You could be the best surfer, the most talked about surfer, whatever, and you go out there and you just need a score and you can’t find a wave. It’s like Tom Brady has to go down the field to score the winning goal and he can’t find the ball. “
For women, both Moore and Marks are strong contenders for medals. Johanne Defay from France and the Australian Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore are among others.
In the men’s category, the Brazilians Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira are the last two world champions and were ranked 1-2 in the world rankings in July. Japanese Kanoa Igarashi, who was born and raised in California to Japanese parents, is one of those who could upset her. However, due to the limited field, which was largely determined in 2019, five of the top 10 surfers in the world rankings will not compete in the Olympics, opening up opportunities for some lesser-known names.
Andino is a surf star around 18 months older in the lee of Florence. He won a record of nine national titles as an amateur and qualified for the WSL championship tour as a teenager in 2012.
He belongs to the generation who brought acrobatics to the waves with sharp cuts and big airs, a style that others, especially the Brazilians, have made championships. It’s the kind of approach that can come in handy in the Olympics.
But despite all his success, Andino has never won a Championship Tour event and went from 0 to 5 in the head-to-head final. “I’ll save it for the Olympics!” he said with a laugh.
He can’t think of anything better. Andino said he records and consumes coverage of the Olympics.
“I am absolutely fascinated by people who dedicate their lives to sport and this moment,” he said. “And I grew up next to Camp Pendleton, so I’m very patriotic. It’s like these worlds merge into one, an explosion of fun on TV. “
He’s drawn to sports he doesn’t know about, such as biathlon. (“They ski so hard, then they stop and shoot. The analogy with surfing is that you paddle so hard that you almost throw up, then you have to get up and ride the wave with total concentration.”) He was enthusiastic about the cross-country skier Jessie Diggins and her breakthrough. He can name all sorts of famous and less famous moments in the Olympics, both winter and summer, all before the arrival of surfing.
“It’s so sick to just be a part of it,” he said.
At that time, he was still using crutches to move around to protect his ankle. Soon, however, Andino was back in the familiar water, just down the street, taking the breaks he knows as well as anyone else.
He’s not sure what to expect in Japan, but he hopes it will feel like home.