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[Surfers hope to ride the wave to the Olympics at the East Coast Surfing Championships]

Surfers hope to ride the wave to the Olympics at the East Coast Surfing Championships

Japan’s Hiroto Ohhara had just won his heat to move into the quarterfinals of the Van’s Pro division at the 56th annual Coast Edge East Coast Surfing Championships.

So had Californian Jett Schilling.

The two could meet in today’s professional finals, earning lots of World Qualifying Series points and a decent amount of money.

And while it’s too far ahead to think about, they could compete against one another on sports’ grandest stage – the Olympics.

Surfing officially will be a sport at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Both surfers, and about a dozen more at the ECSC, have their sights set on making their national teams.

“Can’t talk on that now, because we haven’t picked a team,” Ohhara said. “If I am able to make the team and compete, that would be a very big honor.”

While any surfer would be proud to represent their country at the sport’s first Olympics, none will have more pride than the Japanese.

“It’s a big honor for Japan to be hosting the first Olympic surfing,” Ohhara said. “This will be good for surfing and good for Japan. Surfing has become very popular in Japan. All of the newspapers and television stations cover it and they follow us all over to watch us compete.”

Kanoa Igarashi, arguably the top Japanese professional, declared his intent to earn one of the spots on the national team. He has dual citizenship in the United States and recently won a decision from the Nappon Surfing Association to compete for Japan if he qualifies.

Schilling was keeping any thoughts of representing the United States in the back of his mind.

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The 15-year-old San Clemente resident was only focusing on winning his first professional title.

If his third-round heat victory is any indication, he’s got a good chance.

Schilling opened the heat strong, catching two quick waves and jumping into the lead. But his three competitors finally figured out the washing-machine swell and pushed him to the fourth and final spot with a couple of minutes to go. Only the top two in each heat advance.

But with a little more than a minute to go and needing a score higher than a 6.5, Schilling found one of the best waves of the heat and took off on a slashing ride full of snaps off the lip that took him all the way to the beach. His 8.17 score leapfrogged him into the lead and an eventual victory.

“I just want to surf the best I can,” said Schilling, a member of the USA Junior Surf Team. “I saw that wave, took it and was able to pull off a few good maneuvers to get the win. Really good for my stoke.”

Not every Olympic hopeful was surfing in the professional division.

Virginia Beach’s Blayr Barton is a member of the Junior National Training Team and was competing in two amateur divisions. The 13-year-old Princess Anne Middle School student had surfed well to advance to the semifinals in both.

“I just need to keep surfing and working on things and get better,” he said. “Working with the USA coaches is a really big help and hopefully I’ll be ready to go to the (Olympic) trials next year.

“I think we’re all really stoked about surfing being in the Olympics. It’s really going to be great for the sport.”

Virginia Beach’s Laird Myers is also on the USA Junior team, but was not competing in the ECSC.

See article on pilot.com

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