Five years ago Carissa Moore’s hometown of Honolulu declared Jan. 4 a holiday in her honor. And all she had to do to get that was win a world surfing title.
So Hawaii will have to look for a new way to honor its favorite daughter now that she is the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in surfing, dominating the competition Tuesday at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Chiba prefecture.
“I can’t wait to come home and celebrate,” said Moore after she draped the gold around her neck during a medal presentation that brought her to tears beneath a face mask in the colors of the American flag.
“It’s quite heavy,” she joked of the medal. “It’s been a crazy couple of days, a little bit of a roller coaster of emotions.”
In the men’s final, Brazil’s Italo Ferreira overcame a broken board on his first wave to beat Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi.
The medal rounds were scheduled to take place Wednesday but with Tropical Storm Nepartak approaching and forecasters calling for fog and flat surf, organizers decided to move the finals up. That turned the final day into a test of fitness as well as skill, with the quarterfinals, semifinals and medal heats all taking place in less than seven hours.
That didn’t seem to bother Moore, who was challenged only once, in her semifinal victory over Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki. The only time silver medalist Bianca Buitendag of South Africa got near to Moore in the final was when she dropped her board and wrapped the American in a warm and wet congratulatory hug in the shallow surf.
Moore, who came out of the water with her arms raised, was then scooped up by her coaches and carried off the beach holding an American flag aloft as a rainbow peaked out from beneath the foreboding slate-gray skies.
Tsuzuki won the bronze medal, beating American teenager Caroline Marks.
In the men’s competition Ferreira, the 2019 World Surf League champion, scored a near-perfect 9.73 out of 10 in his quarterfinal heat, breaking the Olympic record of 9.00 set by teammate Gabriel Medina in his quarterfinal.
“It’s one of the best days of my life for sure,” Ferreira said. “I was busy with training and thinking and dreaming and now I’ve got the gold medal. The dream came true.”
Breaking a board on the first wave of the final nearly turned that dream into a nightmare, especially with the surfers struggling to find good waves.
Chiba is known for its relatively calm waters but the surf was choppy Tuesday and the waves often had no shape. As a result, the final rounds were as much about timing and luck as it was about skill.
“That board gives me good speed, the other one is more slow,” he said. “That’s what I changed. It’s super hard out there, but I knew that there was a lot of opportunities around.
“I started to catch a lot of waves and get scores.”
Medina wound up fourth, losing the bronze medal to Australian Owen Wright by two-tenths of a point in the most competitive heat of the final day. Kolohe Andino, the top-finishing male surfer from the U.S., was eliminated in the first quarterfinal heat, losing to Igarashi, the eventual silver medalist.
Since the men’s third-place match was the first final of the inaugural Olympic surfing competition, that made Wright the first surfing medalist in Olympic history.
“I feel like I’m on a cloud,” he said. “This is special. By far the best moment of my career.
“The Olympics is going to be forever cemented in surfing for the future.”
For Wright, the milestone comes at the end of a difficult six-year personal journey that began when he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“I’ve been through some bloody battles,” said Wright, 31. “I was struggling to walk. I couldn’t surf. The Olympics being announced, it spurred me on. It changed the attention the sport got.
“After my first heat, I broke down in tears and cried for 10 minutes, because it meant so much to be an Olympian finally. It really was that beacon of light to strive through all those dark times. It was a special moment.”
Being able to provide those special moments is what drove Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Assn., in his two-decade quest to get surfing added to the Olympic calendar. And even though the competition was shortened a day by weather, Aguerre was pleased with the sport’s Games debut.
“It was the most beautiful surfing day in history,” he said. “We had sand, the waves, a rainbow. We had everything.
“I couldn’t have scripted it better. It exceeded my expectations in every way.”