By Philip O’Connor
TOKYO (Reuters) – The addition of surfing and skateboarding has brought a whole new lifestyle vibe to the Olympic village, with laid-back competitors in Tokyo aiming just as much for having fun as they are for winning gold.
Long seen by athletes and fans alike as underground sports that should not be about competition, the surfers and skaters at the 2020 Games are embracing the higher profile that comes with being part of the mainstream.
“Everybody’s having a good time. This is killer, we’re all enjoying it,” Argentinian surfer Leandro Usuna told Reuters on his final day of training ahead of surfing’s Olympic debut on Sunday.
“You get a lot more coverage at this stage, when you’re in an Olympics. More people put you on their Instagram and on TV, it’s being nationally broadcast in Argentina and all over. A lot of people who don’t even know what it is are discovering surfing,” he added.
The 33-year-old is also enjoying being something of an outlier in the Olympic village.
“It’s cool, the other athletes are in normal sports, so for a surfer or a skater to be there, it kinda changes it a little bit, it makes it more mellow. It is a super-important event, you want to go for gold and everything, but you’ve got to enjoy it too,” he explained.
“I think surfing is like a passion, it’s a style, a lifestyle. Skating is too – it’s cool seeing the skaters out there, you feel like you’re with someone, you feel like family’s out there.”
Friday’s opening ceremony was an emotional event for many of the newcomers, and Usuna was one of them.
“Seeing the surfers being the flag-bearers for their countries, that was awesome, awesome. Putting surfing as the number one sport in their country … that was insane. That was really cool, a special moment,” he said.
“There are some times you want to press pause in life, and I’ve got like three or four moments – when my baby was born, when I met my girl, (the opening ceremony) yesterday, and probably the best beer of my life – that’ll stay in there forever too!” he joked.
Usuna said he has already met plenty of other athletes in the Olympic village who are somewhat jealous of his situation.
“Whenever you tell an athlete you’re a surfer, they’re all into it, they’re like, ‘Oh man, you got the right sport, I wish I did that!’. Everybody wants to be a surfer, some way or another,” he said.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)