Teenage surfer Mathea Olin has big plans on her way to Tokyo Olympics
Canadian has her sights set on sport's Summer Games debut in 2020
If you ever find yourself on the grey, misty beaches of Cox Bay in Tofino, B.C., chances are you'll see a white-blonde head bobbing in the surf.
That would be 15-year- old Mathea Olin, who defended her national titles this past weekend in women's longboard and U16 at the Surf Canada Nationals at Wickaninnish Beach, B.C.
And if the next few years go to plan — quite a big plan — she'll ride that wave straight to Tokyo 2020 on Canada's first Olympic surf team.
If you ask her how she got to this point, the answer is what you'd expect from a teenager.
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"Honestly," Olin said, pausing to think for a moment. "I'm not really sure."
But the more you get to know her, the "how" becomes pretty obvious.
On one hand, Olin embodies exactly what you'd imagine a Canadian surfer to be; she grew up on Cox Bay with the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing into her backyard, and is authentically in awe of the outdoors.
"I love to go out exploring, I like to go out hiking with my friends," she said. "We have a boat so I like to go out on the water."
She surfs every day and likes taking pictures of the hauntingly beautiful Vancouver Island — shots you'd instantly double-tap on Instagram. Olin's personality exudes the laid-back, surf lifestyle synonymous with ocean towns.
However, it's clear she also has undeniable drive and laser focus beyond her years.
In addition to numerous national titles and multiple podium appearances at contests like Queen of the Peak, Olin also won Canada's first-ever international medal in surfing by capturing gold in longboard at the 2017 Pan Am Qualifiers in Peru.
At home, the teenager studies online so she can dry-land train throughout the week in addition to surfing up to twice a day. She also manages a part-time job, as well as the daunting task of securing sponsors to start building her brand and career.
"The number one thing that makes Mathea so good is her drive," said Pete Devries, who is an eight-time national champion, mentor and fellow Canadian-made surfer. "She's a quiet girl, but you can tell she has that desire and that drive, and that's really going to push her moving forward."
And Olin dreams big — bigger than Tofino. Making it onto the World Surf Tour and representing Canada in 2020 in Tokyo, where the sport will make its Olympic debut, are on her to-do list.
"I would love people to think of me as someone who came from Canada," Olin said. "I really want to inspire everybody here, like all the younger girls to go and start competing more internationally."
Olin has yet another advantage in that she's really good at surfing. But raw talent is not always enough.
From Canada to the world
"My surfing style… I feel like right now I'm improving and improving and learning new stuff so it changes constantly," Olin said. "A lot of people tell me my style makes me seem a lot older than I am."
Coach and mentor Christian Moutinho agrees.
"She's definitely talented," he said. "She understands the ocean; she feels comfortable in the ocean. When it becomes tough is when you put that into competition.
"Then you have to learn the tools and a couple other things to make sure all that raw talent she's acquired in the past couple years just by going surfing [are] put into specific time frames. And that's the most difficult part."
And Devries knows more than anyone about the difficulties Olin will face.
"Living here and growing up here and becoming a professional, there are huge challenges," said Devries. "It's quite a small industry in Canada… The level of competition obviously isn't as high as your world powers like Australia, Brazil and in the U.S.
"Not having the constant competition around you to drive you and push you every day can be a huge challenge."
Back to basics
But the industry is slowly growing in Canada, and Olin is already getting out into the world. She and Moutinho will continue focusing on building her foundation: learning about equipment, understanding environments and venues, as well as competition-specific tools and techniques.
They also share the philosophy of staying grounded in the love of the sport. And although she's won national titles and international competitions, her best surf moment embodies just that.
"We were in the Maldives," said Olin, who smiles at the very thought. "And on the beach it was completely white sand, palm trees, your perfect crystal-clear water and fish everywhere and sharks. That was the first wave I got a legit barrel. And just being inside the wave was something I'll never forget. That was a moment I was like, 'I can't believe I'm doing this right now.'
"I can't believe this is the life I'm living."
Here's the full list of winners from the 2018 Surf Canada Nationals:
- Open women's: Bethany Zalesko
- Open men's: Pete Devries
- Longboard women's: Mathea Olin
- Longboard men's: Christian Thompson
- U18 girls: Bethany Zalesko
- U18 boys: Wheeler Hasburgh
- U16 girls: Mathea Olin
- U16 boys: Reed Platenius
- SUPsurf men's: Jeffrey Spencer
- SUPsurf women's: Catherine Bruhwiler