By his own count, Fernando Aguerre worked 22 years to get surfing added to the Olympics. So when the first of the 40 Summer Games competitors hit the waves early Sunday morning at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Chiba Prefecture, it was a special moment.
“It was a very emotional feeling for me,” Aguerre said. “This will never happen again. The first day of Olympic surfing.”
Some of the surfers felt the same way.
“I never dreamed of surfing in the Olympics. It was only until the last few years, when it got accepted into the Games, it really became a reality,” said American Carissa Moore, a four-time world champion, who won the first heat of Olympic competition.
“The other day I was walking through the check-in room and I saw the jersey. I was so excited to actually see my name and the Olympic Rings on the jersey. It’s a very special time to be a part of surfing and to be here on this world stage. I’m very honored and I feel very fortunate.”
The other three American qualifiers also advanced.
“It feels surreal to actually put the Olympic jersey on,” 19-year-old Caroline Marks said. “I feel just so proud and honored to be here and represent my country. It was really fun.”
Kolohe Andino was the first U.S. surfer in the water, placing second in his heat to advance. He will face teammate John John Florence, a two-time world champion, in a one-on-one elimination heat Tuesday.
Ecuador’s Dominic Barona marked surfing’s Olympic debut by getting the rings tattooed on her wrist before leaving for Tokyo, although she had to wear a long-sleeve shirt around the house to keep it secret from her mother.
“I got it because this is for life. We’re the first Olympic athletes in surfing, so I wanted to save this moment for all my life,” she said. “I don’t know how she’s going to feel about it. But this is so important for me. Every time I go out in the water, I’ll see the tattoo.
“To be a part of this is an honor. I still can’t believe it yet; it feels like every day I’m dreaming.”
Peru’s Lucca Mesinas went one better, carrying his country’s flag in last Friday’s opening ceremony, officially become an Olympian before his sport did.
“It’s amazing, a dream come true,” he said. “I’m staying at the Olympic Village and seeing all the athletes at the gym there is crazy. And here too, surfing with the best surfers in the world is amazing.“
Brazilian Italo Ferreira, a gold-medal favorite, made the most of his Olympic debut, earning scores of 7.00 and 6.67 in a clinical, round-one performance of sharp turns and technical maneuvers.
In the women’s competition, Australia's Stephanie Gilmore, a seven-time world champion, drew a two-wave score of 14.5. She was among the first of the 20 women in the water, which sometimes can be a disadvantage. But she welcomed it.
“I needed to get started early because surfing in Round 1 was going to officially make us an Olympian,” she said.
Teammate Sally Fitzgibbons won her heat with a score of 12.5.
“It still feels so surreal, I've been pinching myself every day,” Costa Rica’s Brisa Hennessy added. "It's been a dream walking amongst the best athletes in the world. An opportunity and experience of a lifetime.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.