At Tsurigasaki Beach on Tuesday, Italo Ferreira and Carissa Moore became surfing's first Olympic gold medalists. Their success was a long time coming, both for them as individual athletes and for their sport.
After the 1912 Olympics where he won two medals in swimming, Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku called for surfing's inclusion in the Games. It took more than 100 years. Now Kahanamoku's dream has come to life.
Though they arrived at the same destination, surfing's two Olympic gold medalists came from very different beginnings. From a hardscrabble background in Brazil, Ferreira learned how to surf at Baía Formosa. His rode his first waves on a cooler lid that he borrowed from his father who sold fish to the local markets.
"This has been quite a story for me," Ferreira said after winning Gold. "Because of [my upbringing] I have a lot of passion for the sport."
A World Champion in 2019, Ferreira is one of the most electric performers in surfing. He also has the kind of story that feels implausible, but at the Olympics so often turns out to be real.
Born in Hawaii, Moore surfed her first wave at Waikiki Beach where Hawaiian queens skimmed the waves on their wood olo boards. One of the most successful surfers in the sport, Moore has won four world championship titles and currently leads the world rankings. Despite her massive career, the Olympics felt singular to her.
"The scale of this event felt so much bigger," said Moore. "Getting to share the sport with so many people that maybe have never even watched surfing was super special." Moore's gold medal was a coronation, one that followed years of steadfast commitment and an imperious performance.
The lineup at Tsurigasaki Beach had nothing to do with the Instagram version of surfing. The waves' power churned up the sand bottom and turned the water dark and murky.
A long grind awaited surfers on the paddle-out. If you've ever surfed a maxed out beach break, you almost certainly felt a twinge of empathy for the surfers pushing against relentless currents and enduring the near-endless duck diving. There was no perfection here.
Many of us don't have the opportunity to travel in search of perfect waves, so this contest looked a lot like real life.
To win her gold medal, Moore brought her trademark composure and flawless technique. Raised in Hawaii, she had no problem pushing back against the powerful storm surf -- or if she did, it certainly didn't show.
Two unexpected names stood on the podium with Moore at the end of the day. Japanese surfer Amuro Tsuzuki grew up two hours from Chiba in Sagami Bay. Waves are scarce in her home town, so Tsuzuki has spent many hours in the lineup at Tsurigasaki Beach. Her strong style matched the conditions well, and in the bronze medal round, she scored an upset victory over pre-event favorite Caroline Marks. Tsuzuki seized the upper hand on the paddle out, and kept it through the finish.
Silver medalist Bianca Buitendag reached the gold medal round after defeating Marks in the semi-final and Portugal's Yolanda Hopkins in the quarters. She lives in Victoria Bay, and is no stranger to storm-driven beach break surf.
A past Championship Tour competitor, Buitendag will retire after the Olympics, the silver medal an emphatic punctuation to her career.
An early sign of what Ferreira brought to his campaign came in the quarterfinal against Hiroto Ohhara. On one of his first waves of the heat, the Brazilian shimmied down the line and launched a lofty air. No grab, no problem. Huck to flats? Also, no problem. Just Italo, doing Italo things.
Even a broken board on his first wave in the final against Igarashi didn't seem to faze Ferreira. He went into the beach, secured a leash to a carbon-wrap back-up board, and paddled back out. With several minutes left in the heat -- the heat clock was not always visible on the screen -- Ferreira had the gold medal won with time to spare.
To reach the gold medal round, Igarashi beat Gabriel Medina, one of surfing's fiercest competitors in his semi-final heat. Until late in the game, Medina looked to have it on lock. But Igarashi wasn't about to give up.
Born in Japan and raised in Huntington Beach, Igarashi was competing in front of his family's home country. Growing up, he spent many hours, asleep in his family's station wagon on the way to the dawn patrol.
He carried the hopes of his family and native country on his shoulders. They did not appear to weigh him down. A solid air reverse late in the heat earned him a 9.3. It won Igarashi the heat, and left Medina fuming. It would not be a surf contest without at least one argument over the scoring.
In the bronze medal heat, Medina tried and failed to win it in the air. Australian Owen Wright, meanwhile, kept his rails in the water, and used his ripping backside turns to secure the bronze medal. A heavy head injury at Pipe very nearly ended Wright's career -- and his life. An emotional celebration on the beach after his medal-winning heat suggested just how hard that comeback must have been, and how much his achievement in Japan meant to Wright.
Surfing belongs at the Olympics. Sure, it's easy to be cynical. The Games are a big-money show and that reality carries its share of baggage. But it's hard to say it's bad for surfing to be a part of the one of the world's biggest sporting events.
We need look no further than the reactions of Moore and Ferreira as they stood on the medal stand to see their genuine emotion in the moment. At the end of the day, that's what the Games should be about, and why every four years, we show up to watch them.
Somewhere, there's a young boy being pushed into his first wave by his dad, and somewhere, there's a girl, standing up on her boogie board, announcing to everyone within earshot, that look, she's surfing, just like Carissa.
Sometimes, dreams come true.