Riding the wave to history: B.C. teen first Canadian surfer to qualify for Olympics
Sanoa Dempfle-Olin snagged silver at the 2023 Pan American Games in Chile
B.C.’s Sanoa Dempfle-Olin, 18, is the first Canadian surfer to qualify for the Summer Olympics. (Instagram/sanoa_olin)
Surfing isn’t a sport most people associate with Canada. But when the 2024 Summer Olympics get underway next July, at least one Canadian will be there with surfboard in tow.
Earlier this week, Sanoa Dempfle-Olin from Tofino, B.C., became the first Canadian surfer to qualify for the Olympics.
“It’s been an unreal experience so far. And now being home, I feel like it’s just settling in,” the 18-year-old told The Current guest host Duncan McCue.
Surfing made its Olympic debut in the 2020 summer games in Tokyo; 20 men and 20 women from across all continents qualified for those games, but none of them were Canadian.
Canada’s surfing competition debut will come in 2024 though, thanks to Dempfle-Olin’s performance in the 2023 Pan American Games. She secured provisional qualification by reaching Monday’s women’s final, where she subsequently snagged the silver medal in women’s shortboard.
Dempfle-Olin posted two strong scores early in the semifinal session for a 10-4.20 win over Costa Rica’s Leilani McGonagle. It was an emotional moment for the teenager.
“Honestly, I started crying. I was so happy,” she said. “I kind of had a moment of like, ‘Oh my gosh, someone needs to pinch me; I could be dreaming.'”
“Once I saw my team … and they celebrated and met me in the water, then I knew it was official.”
Dempfle-Olin’s Olympic qualification is provisional upon her competing in the ISA World Surfing Games, which will take place in Puerto Rico from Feb. 22 to March 2.
But two Canadians would have to finish ahead of Dempfle-Olin and among the top seven women in that competition to knock her off her Olympic berth.
That’s a tall order with more than 100 women competing for seven remaining Olympic spots, Surf Canada executive director Dom Domic said.
“I would bet the house that Sanoa has fully punched her ticket to Paris 24,” he said. “It’s literally almost assured.
The 2024 Summer Olympics will take place in Paris, but the surfing competitions are expected to be held in the Pacific island country of French Polynesia, nearly 16,000 kilometres away from the host city.
“Just being in the Olympics and having … such a big event that showcases, you know, the top level of all sports is a huge opportunity for me to work towards and to improve myself,” she said.
Dempfle-Olin has been surfing her entire life. She started off boogie boarding and playing in the Pacific Ocean, and she competed in her first international competition at the age of 11.
“Growing up in Tofino, we’re super fortunate because I have waves all year round, so you can surf every single day of the year,” she said.
“It’s obviously a lot cooler than most places you surf, so you definitely have to be really dedicated and really love it if you’re going to get in the water.”
She also comes from a surfing family. She said her mom surfed a little, and her older sister, Mathea — who won bronze in surfing at the 2019 Pan Am Games — also picked up surfing at a young age.
“They would surf and just spend time in the water together, and I would try my best to keep up and just get out there with them,” Dempfle-Olin said.
Mathea didn’t qualify for the 2023 Pan Am Games, but Dempfle-Olin has competed against her in the past. She says Mathea is her best friend and inspiration.
“When we actually have heats together, it definitely can be a little stressful because I want to win, but I also don’t want her to go home,” she said.
“Luckily, most of the heats that we surf against each other are four-man heats, so there is the possibility for us both making it. The top two advance in a four-person heat.”
‘Unlike any other sport’
Dempfle-Olin is now back in Tofino, where she says she was greeted by her friends and community members.
She still has a lot of competitions to attend before the Olympics start, but she said she’s going to surf all throughout the winter to prepare.
In the meantime, Dempfle-Olin said she hopes the successes she and her sister have had will create more opportunities for young Canadians to take on surfing.
“It is so wonderful and magical,” she said. “Getting to connect with the ocean and be in nature, it’s a whole other experience and it’s unlike any other sport. I love it.”