Six Filipino surfers seek Olympic tickets

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 16) – Six Filipino shortboard surfers will contend for a chance to play in the inaugural Olympic surfing competition in Tokyo, Japan in July.

The Philippine surfing team will vie for the lone Asian Olympic ticket per gender in the 2021 ISA World Surfing Games, slated from May 29 to June 6 in El Salvador.

2019 Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Nilbie Blancada, bronze medalist Daisy Valdez, and teenage surfer Vea Estrellado are the female surfers who will compete in the tournament.

In the men's side, 2019 SEA Games bronze medalist John Mark Tokong will be joined by Jay-R Esquivel and Edito Alcala, Jr.

United Philippine Surfing Association president Dr. Raul Canlas said the six athletes are the top three shortboard surfers in their respective national rankings, determined through their performances in the different legs of the Philippine Surfing Championship Tour.

Canlas bared that amid the pandemic, the surfers continuously trained in La Union and Siargao, which have relaxed quarantine restrictions. Tokong was not able to train with the team throughout the pandemic as he and his coach decided to train in Australia.

"This pandemic changed our course a bit, but we stayed on track with our blueprint, still doing strength and conditioning, yoga, and water training. As you can remember, water sports is one of the physical activities allowed by the IATF, so our surf-specific training resumed right away, not like the other sports," Canlas told CNN Philippines.

Canlas expressed his optimism that any of the Filipino surfers can clinch an Olympic slot because they are familiar with their opponents, especially Asian foes, and that they have competed in numerous international tournaments before the pandemic.

"Our chances may look slim as we are just battling for one slot. But Japan, which ranked top 1 in the 2019 WSG (World Surfing Games), already qualified their surfer as a host country. Basically, we're just down to battling with Indonesia for the last slot in both male and female divisions," Canlas explained.

Blancada beat Indonesia's Taina Izquerdo and Thailand's Annissa Flynn for the gold in the 2019 SEA Games surfing competition. Canlas said the two surfers, along with another Indonesian surfing sensation Rio Waida, are the toughest competition for the Filipino athletes in the El Salvador meet.