Age and experience are often the best defence against rough waves. But these young surfers are proving that you can soar to the top whether you’re in your early 20s or even 15 years old.
Joao Chianca, Erin Brooks and Vahine Fierro are among the talented youngsters making a statement on the international surfing circuit this season. Skilled, ambitious and fearless against the biggest waves, they will surely be ones to watch heading to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and beyond.
Still have doubts? Tune into the 2023 ISA World Surfing Games, which Olympics.com is streaming live from Surf City El Salvador from 30 May to 7 June, and watch them go head-to-head with Olympic medallists and world champions.
Joao Chianca: New Brazilian on the block
As many young athletes know, it’s hard to come out of the shadow of your older teammates.
That is especially true if your teammates happen to be on the Brazilian men’s surfing team. And then the best way to do it is to go straight to the top of the world rankings, which is exactly what 22-year-old Joao Chianca did in his second season on the World Championship Tour.
Initially introduced as the little brother of big wave surfer Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca, Joao Chianca has quickly made a name of his own and emerged as one of Brazil’s top prospects for Paris 2024.
Chianca made his debut on the World Championship Tour in 2022 where he went mostly under the radar with a streak of five 17th place finishes.
But everything changed in 2023. Chianca announced his presence with a third-place finish on the first leg of the tour, while a victory at the Portugal Pro in March against Australia’s Jack Robinson and two additional third places helped to solidify his lead in the rankings.
The world No.1 has yet to dip below a Top 10 finish this season, but perhaps what is even more satisfying are all the victories he has recorded in head-to-head battles with the sport’s biggest stars including Kelly Slater, Kanoa Igarashi and Rio Weida, as well as teammate and Olympic gold medallist Italo Ferreira.
What’s next for Chianca? A world title would not be out of the question.
Erin Brooks: High-flying teenager Olympic champions are talking about
Even if you’re not an expert in how the scoring system works in surfing, you can’t help but be impressed with the skills Canada’s Erin Brooks shows on a board.
The 15-year-old became a viral sensation in 2022 as the first female to do a front and back flip on a surfboard.
And she’s not only good in the air.
Brooks made more history at the 2022 ISA World Junior Championships in El Salvador when she won the Girls U-16 division – Canada’s first junior medal in the sport.
What makes her achievement particularly special is that Brooks grew up in Texas and first stood on a surfboard when she was nine, after her family moved to Maui.
Inspired by her first surfing lessons, Brooks entered multiple competitions in Hawaii – and lost in the first round of each one. Far from being discouraged, the teen started training even harder, paddling out on her board at dawn before school and repeating the process after lessons.
That tenacity and natural talent already has veteran surfers talking. Olympic champion Italo Ferreira sends Brooks encouraging messages while Carissa Moore, an Olympic and five-time world champion, has complimented Brooks for blazing a trail in women’s aerial surfing, saying, “Erin is doing airs I can’t even wrap my head around”.
Vahine Fierro: Home surf advantage
While the surfing world is looking to the infamously huge swells in Teahupo’o, Tahiti with understandable trepidation, 23-year-old Vahine Fierro is hoping those waves are as tough as they get when the Olympic competition takes place on the island next summer.
Battling the waves in Tahiti is an everyday task for the island native who started surfing when she was two.
By the time she was five, Fierro had onlookers talking and encouraging her to take part in competitions. She hesitated to follow that advice at first, preferring to see surfing as a pastime and enjoying the time in the water with her younger sisters, 19-year-old Heimiti and 16-year-old Kohai.
When Fierro did take the leap into competitive surfing, at age 14, it turned out to be a natural fit. She quickly developed a competitive drive that pushed her from an unexpected junior title in 2018 all the way to the World Championship Tour.
Having surfed all over the world, it is in the waters of Tahiti where Fierro excels the most. She first tried the big wave at age 15 and has recorded some of her biggest victories there. In August 2022, she entered the Tahiti Pro stage of the World Championship Tour as a wildcard and beat Olympic champion Moore in the quarterfinals to finish third overall.
With her local knowledge of Tahiti’s waves and plucky attitude, Fierro will be a surfer the world’s best are watching on the road to Paris 2024.
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