TOKYO — When the threat of a typhoon hitting Tokyo during the first week of the year-delayed and pandemic-plagued 2020 Olympics first appeared on weather apps and local news around Japan, it seemed like the latest example these Games were cursed.
As the storm further approached and became a legitimate concern, events like rowing were postponed to later in the week. Discussions about what to do for other outdoor sports have been ongoing as Nepartak, now a tropical storm, is expected to make its closest approach to the city on Tuesday.
It was seen as nothing short of a disaster for most.
But not for those at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Chiba prefecture, about 50 miles away from Tokyo. With surfing making its long-awaited Olympic debut this year, there had been concerns about the typical conditions at the beach since it had first been announced as the site. Not known for its big or powerful waves, there had been uncertainty about how surfers would fare and many were discouraged the sport wouldn’t be shown at its best while the world was watching. That combined with the lack of spectators allowed on site and all of the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols and, well, it wasn’t exactly shaping up to be the event anyone had in mind.
So when the news broke about the storm’s looming arrival, competitors were thrilled by the prospect of larger waves.
“It’s small [now] but there is swell on the way,” wrote Australian surfer Owen Wright on Instagram over the weekend. “Let’s go.”
But, much to the disappointment of the surfers and all those in attendance, the beach on Monday still didn’t quite look like a scene from “Blue Crush.” The waves were larger than normal and measuring around five feet, but due to the increasing winds hammering those watching from land, conditions were choppy and wildly inconsistent. Even medal contenders, like Tatiana Weston-Webb and Stephanie Gilmore, struggled and lost their third round heats on Monday.
“I couldn’t find a rhythm,” Weston-Webb said. “I was fighting with the ocean the whole time… It’s totally different if there are perfect waves and we have equal opportunity for everybody but it’s just not like that.
“That is what we have to deal with. I just really couldn’t find that perfect clean wave.”
The competition was delayed in the early afternoon hours ahead of the men’s third round as wind speeds notched around 25 miles per hour, making the waves more and more difficult to read. Those around the Olympic grounds were stunned at just how disappointing the conditions were.
After years of anticipation about the event finally being an Olympic sport, it made it all the more devastating for those who were heading home earlier than planned after a tough day on the water.
“This is the world’s biggest sporting stage, Gilmore said. “You wanna show up and do your very best. On the World Tour, you have another chance to try and redeem yourself. But this is it for a while, it really hurts.”
Tuesday, when the storm is expected to make landfall some 300 miles away, is now believed to be when the conditions will be most ideal for surfing. But those who advanced to the next phase of the competition say they’ll just be ready for whatever the day brings.
“There’s a lot of talk about a typhoon and I think that’s why we’re getting waves,” Caroline Marks said after advancing to the quarterfinals on Monday morning. “I’m not too sure, I’m really bad at reading a forecast. I just ask the boys. I try to wake up every day and see what it’s like, to bring all the boards and be prepared.
“I just do my best to try to get the best waves out there.”
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