By Lincoln Feast
(Reuters) – When Portugal’s Teresa Bonvalot qualified for the Tokyo Games in 2021 as a then 21-year-old, she had barely a month to prepare for surfing’s Olympic debut and the biggest event of her life.
Now, more than a year out from the Paris Games, Bonvalot has again booked an Olympic ticket and is relishing the extra time to ready her mind, body and equipment.
“That was unbelievable to get the news to mark my spot there,” Bonvalot said during a competition in Australia last week.
“The good thing for me this year was I did qualify earlier, so that will give me a year and a few months, which is great to prepare boards and all of that stuff.”
Bonvalot is one of four female surfers to have qualified through their involvement in the 2023 World Surf League’s championship tour, along with Brazil’s Tatiana Weston-Webb, Brisa Hennessy from Costa Rica and France’s Johanne Defay.
A total of 24 women’s places are available, with the International Surfing Association’s World Surfing Games in El Salvador this month providing the next qualification spots.
Bonvalot, who grew up surfing the wave-drenched coastlines north of Lisbon, surfed her way to a credible ninth-equal place in Tokyo in shifty, stormy conditions at Tsurigasaki Beach.
She faces a much different challenge at the venue for the Paris Games – the perfect but sometimes terrifying reef pass of Teahupo’o in Tahiti.
“It’s one of the most gnarly waves that I’ve surfed,” said Bonvalot. “Just being in the water feels scary, literally.”
Off the picturesque southern coast of Tahiti, powerful swells from deep in the Southern Ocean lurch out of deep water onto a shallow coral reef, providing giant barrels for the skilled and horrendous wipeouts for the unlucky.
“You see a wave, it doesn’t seem like a really big one, but then the water just like sucks. So you go down and the thing just like blows on you and … it’s like the most amazing vision that you probably will get in your life, even if you fall.
“It’s definitely a moment that you feel like that kind of anxiety, but that kind of adrenaline that just makes everything worth it.”
(Reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)