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Potential Olympic hopefuls compete in junior surf contest

OCEANSIDE — Sunday marked the opening of the Vissla/ISA World Junior Surfing Championships — and this year’s event in Oceanside is potentially historic — historic, because the young surfers competing in this U18/U16 event might just become the first class ever to compete for Olympic gold in 2020.

Last month, the International Olympic Committee selected surfing to be on the short list of modern sports considered for the 2020 summer Games in Tokyo. The IOC is expected to make a final decision next August.

The opening ceremony on Sunday did have an Olympics-like feel to it, down to the parade of nations, which isn’t too surprising given that the ISA, for the past 20 years, has been working to have surfing become a part of the Olympics.

“This is like the Olympics,” Fernando Aguerre, president of the ISA, said of the event.

The contest, which is boasted as the largest junior championship in the world, features 322 athletes from 36 nations. “It’s diverse, it’s truly universal,” Aguerre added.

That bringing together of the global community the way the Olympics do is something that Aguerre, a La Jolla resident, enjoys.

“It brings opportunity to all athletes,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from a rich country or a poor country, big country, small country, which religion or which color of your skin…for us that is irrelevant. The ocean doesn’t make differences — (it) doesn’t discriminate and we don’t discriminate.”

Team USA riders Tia Blanco and Colt Ward said surfing for their country is a great honor, especially being able to do it in front of their home crowd.

“It’s very prestigious for us to be on this team and representing our country,” said Blanco, who lives in Oceanside.

And the camaraderie between all of the surfers from around the world is “really nice,” she said.

“It’s a really fun experience.”

As for the opportunity to surf for their country in the Olympics in the future, Blanco and Ward said they’d love for it to happen.

“It’d be a dream,” Blanco said.

“I think the sport has a universality that is practiced in one of the few places left that is open to everybody — there are private beaches,” Aguerre said, “but there’s no private ocean. The ocean belongs to all of us and having the ocean available, we should use it. We should take advantage of it, and then we should look after it. And that’s what we surfers do.”

The contest runs through Oct. 18 at the Oceanside Pier.

A parade of nations opens this year’s Vissla/ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in Oceanside. Photo by Tony CagalaA member of the Portuguese surf team wears her country’s colors. Photo by Tony CagalaTeam USA surfer Tia Blanco wraps herself in the American flag during the contest’s opening ceremony. Photo by Tony CagalaA member of Austria’s national surf team pours sand into a ceremonial tank. Photo by Tony CagalaThere are 322 athletes from 36 countries competing in this year’s Vissla/ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in Oceanside. Photo by Tony CagalaTeam Tahiti watches the opening ceremony at Junior Seau Amphitheatre on Sunday. Photo by Tony CagalaTeam USA member Colt Ward pours sand from Oceanside into the ceremonial sands of the world display. Photo by Tony CagalaInternational Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre helps open the annual competition. Photo by Tony CagalaTeams from 36 nations are competing in this year’s Vissla/ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in Oceanside.  Photo by Tony CagalaMembers of the French delegation take shade underneath their country’s flag. Photo by Tony Cagala

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