Pan American Games·Preview

Surf's up at Pan Am Games and Canada has a budding star in Tofino teen

Surfing makes its debut at this year's Pan Am Games and 16-year-old Canadian Mathea Olin has a shot at the podium.

Mathea Olin has won 2 medals in international competition

Sixteen-year-old Mathea Olin, from Tofino, B.C., won Canada's first-ever medals in international surfing at the 2017 Pan Am Surf Games. (Bryanna Bradley/Canadian Press)

Dom Domic has been on Canadian surfing's long road to sporting prominence from the beginning.

The Calgary native was first exposed to the sport on family vacations to California and Hawaii as a youngster. It wasn't long before Domic, who grew up in Victoria, started hearing about Long Beach on Vancouver Island.

"I went up there and basically lost my mind as a little kid," Domic said. "I was going, 'Man, there's surfing in Canada.' Not like there was many surfers back then at all but there was waves. It opened up a door of opportunity."

He started to dive deeper into the sport and his friends got into it, too. They set up some surfing contests in the late 1980s and the scene blossomed slowly but steadily.

Domic, a three-time national team member, has spent the last eight years as Surf Canada's executive director. His next challenge is guiding the squad to success at its first appearance at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru and then the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

"Here we are 30 years later and we're knocking on the door of the Pan Am Games and the Olympics," Domic said in a recent interview. "It's been a long, long, long, long process."

Surfing, bodybuilding and 3-on-3 basketball were the main additions to the 39-sport program for the Lima Games. Some new disciplines are being added to sports already on the docket — extreme slalom under canoe/kayak, for example — for the Pan Ams, which begin Friday and run through Aug. 11.

Canada is not sending teams in 3-on-3 basketball or bodybuilding, but surfing has some real medal potential.

Most of the buzz is centred on 16-year-old surfing sensation Mathea Olin of Tofino, B.C. She won Canada's first-ever international medals in surfing with a gold (longboard) and bronze (shortboard) at the 2017 Pan Am Surf Games.

Olin, who started surfing competitively at age 10, joined the World Surf League as a junior in 2017 before her promotion to the women's qualifying series last year.

"She's absolutely no doubt our top homegrown talent," Domic said. "Because of her age, her potential is incredibly high."

Canada does have some surfing hubs around the country, but Tofino has become a popular spot with action available year round.

Tofino is Canada's surfing centre. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

In the winter months, the water temperature hovers around 8-10 degrees but great waves are available, Domic said.

"It's cold and it's not your typical (scene with) fun in the sun, hanging out on the beach, bikinis, all that kind of stuff," he said. "It's not. It's Canada. It's rugged, it's cold, it's normal with all the elements — windy, rainy, sometimes snow. It's Canadian surfing."

Olin is one of seven surfers named to the Canadian team that will compete at the Punta Rocas venue from July 29-Aug. 4.

Others include Ottawa's Lina Augaitis, Mike Darbyshire of North Vancouver, B.C., Finn Spencer of Whistler, B.C., Catherine Temple of Tofino, Vancouver's Bethany Zelasko and Cody Young, a native of Makawao, Hawaii who has dual citizenship.

Lima will have a direct impact on Tokyo qualification with the winners of the shortboard competitions punching their Olympic tickets.

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