Bianca Buitendag wants to make a splash in Tokyo Olympics surf
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JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag makes no bones about it – she considers herself an underdog in the Olympic surfing event, planned to start on Sunday.
Not that this is a major concern for the 27-year-old, as being the underdog suits her just fine. Buitendag will be one of 20 female surfers that will have the privilege of introducing a global Olympic audience to what many consider a niche sport.
“It’s the first time that surfing has been included at the Olympics,” Buitendag said with a proud smile and giggle, “so this was never really on the radar growing up. We would watch other disciplines but never think we would be included.
“I’m looking forward to it and it still feels a bit surreal.
“It feels weird (being an Olympian). Unless I started another sport, for us it was just a nonexistent possibility. So, when they announced it three or four years ago, I was like, ‘uh-oh, I can’t let this opportunity pass’. We never thought this dream would come true.”
For Buitendag, surfing is not merely a matter of flesh, blood and muscle subduing the might of nature, but rather a cathartic, near high religious experience every time she crosses the threshold between terra firma and the sea.
“To me, it is more of a therapy than a sport,” she explained.
“There is an actual geographical divide once you step over the shoreline – it feels like you are leaving everything behind.
“There is a sense of freedom in that. That is my biggest thrill – to just put your head under the water and kind of wash away what happened that day, that year.”
Buitendag qualified for the Olympics by finishing third at the World Surfing Games in 2019. Although she has had very little action in the surf, when she starts her Olympic career this weekend, she is confident that she is in the right space, mentally and physically, to make the nation proud.
“Contrary to popular belief,” said the Victoria Bay native, “Covid-19 gave us all an extra year to prepare where we were almost forced to be back at home, back to our base.
“The support structure I had back at home, the facilities and the contacts you have are obviously much larger and more convenient than trying to figure it out while you travel.
“I went to a gym in town, I surfed the local spots regularly. All my equipment was there, so there is no logistics to confuse me or make it difficult. During Covid, all we could really do is to train. I have never been so prepared in my life, never been to the gym in a year so much.”
That extended period of preparation will be important for the goofy-footed Buitendag.
At 1.85m, she will be one of the taller surfers at Shidashita Beach, 40km outside Tokyo, and where the waves are small and break close to the shoreline.
Not only will that be detrimental to her lanky frame, but Buitendag will also be competing against an illustrious field that includes Carrisa Moore of the US, one of the greatest surfers in the history of the sport in Stephanie Gilmore of Australia, and teenage sensation Caroline Marks (US).
Buitendag is ranked 26 in the world, and therefore her claiming the role of underdog is not unfounded.