Over 240 surfers from 51 nations will be converging on Huntington Beach Friday for the first stop on the Olympic Qualifying series for the 2024 Paris Games. While there are still two years to try and win a spot through many qualifiers and ranking systems, the road to Tahiti begins right here as the International Surfing Association's World Surfing Games kicks off the festivities with the eight-day event.
The members of Team USA include Zoe McDougall (Hawaii), Gabriela Bryan (Kauai), Kirra Pinkerton (San Clemente), Kolohe Andino (San Clemente), Griffin Colapinto (San Clemente) and Nat Young (Santa Cruz). They will try to better the 20th place finish for the USA in 2021's event.
For the youngest member of team USA, 19-year-old Kirra Pinkerton, it will be an event to remember.
"I'm super excited to be surfing with the USA team this year," Pinkerton said. "I feel it's a good event to have a team together, all cheering on one another and get the feel for what the Olympics will be like."
Pinkerton surfed both the World Surf League Challenger Series and Qualifying Series events this year with her best finish being a 3rd place result at the Jacks Pro. She had two top 10 finishes in the Challenger Series this year and in 2021 was a top 20 performer on the WSL Championship Series rankings.
"This event is definitely different than most events right now on the Challenger Series, the team all works together to bring the support and take home the gold," she said. "I've always loved the ISA events and to be back in one is always going to be a favorite event on the year."
While Pinkerton will have the support of her five teammates, 15-year-old Eeli Timperi will be facing just the opposite.
Timperi, who resides in Encinitas, will be the one and only surfer competing for Finland, the country he was born in.
"This is really special because there aren't many people from Finland that surf but there is just enough to get the backing and support that you need," Timperi said. "There is a small community within Finnish surfing, and they saw my Instagram and asked me if I wanted to surf for Finland."
According to Timperi it was mainly thank to Juno Mikkonen and the Finnish Surf Association for making it possible.
Twice, Timperi was a national finalist in the NSSA championships, gaining a third-place finish in 2021 in the boys 14 under division. Even tho the 15-year-old will be battling some competitors twice his age, there is no way he would pass this up.
"I'm Mainly looking for the experience out of an event like this, especially going up against the big dogs, " he said. " It's especially great doing this at Huntington. I'm so thankful for everyone who helped me get here."
The event kicks off Friday with the parade of nations carrying their flags of the "Sands of the World" ceremony at the HB Pier Northside Plaza at 3 pm. The men's competition starts on Saturday, with the women joining in on Monday.
The finals will be on Saturday, September 24th.