When people think of surfing, they often conjure up scenes of Hawaiian and Australian beaches— places where the possibility of being knocked off your board is tempered by the warmth of both waves and sun.
Rarely do they equate surfing with Canada, where, even in the summer, jumping into the ocean can be a shock to the system.
And yet, Canada is where Mathea Olin not only learned, but honed her crest-riding skills.
Now she's hoping to become the nation's first Olympic competitor when the sport makes its debut in Tokyo this summer.
Olin, 18, was born in Canmore, Alta., but grew up in Tofino, B.C. – widely recognized as Canada's surf capital – after moving there as an infant with her family.
"I started playing in the ocean and boogie boarding from the time I could walk," says Olin.
She moved to surfing when she was eight, and four years later she was competing in the 2015 world junior championships in Oceanside, Calif.,—placing 15th in the under-18 division in her first international event.
Won Canada's 1st surf medals
In 2017, Olin, who was just 14, won her first international medals (as well as Canada's) at the Pan Am Surf Games in Peru, taking home a gold and a bronze.
She followed that up with a second-place finish at the 2018 Canadian nationals in Tofino, and in 2019, Olin surfed onto the podium at the Pan Am Games, once again in Peru, finishing with a bronze. Now, she's eyeing the Tokyo Games.
"The basic competition format goes by elimination," Olin explains. "There are normally four people in each heat, and you have 20 minutes on the water per round."
Surfers are judged on their two best waves and given scores between one and 10. An athlete's score is determined by a number of factors.
"Wave selection, how big it is, the moves you do, if you complete the wave and how fast you go — that's all combined into the final score," says Olin.
From those preliminary heats, the top two surfers advance and continue this process for a few rounds until they reach the final.
Olin's one shot to qualify for the Olympics will take place at an event in El Salvador (May 29-June 6).
Booking her ticket to Tokyo will be no easy task; only 20 women will surf at the Games, and most spots are already taken.
Just 6 spots available for Olympics
"They take the top seven off the world tour," says Olin. "The winner of Pan Ams also got a spot, and last year at worlds, the top six Europeans qualified."
That leaves six places up for grabs, and Olin (along with fellow Canadians Paige Alms and Bethany Zelasko) is keen to snag one.
Christian Moutinho has been coaching Olin for seven years and has seen her grow into the capable and strong athlete she is today. Her ceiling is high, he says, and even if she doesn't make it to the Olympics this year, her name is one Canadians should remember.
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"It's not like she's a surfer from Canada who just shows up to competitions," said Moutinho, who grew up surfing on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and moved to Victoria after marrying a Canadian. "She's able to compete with surfers out there who come from countries where surfing is popular, which may come as a serious surprise to them."
Olin will spend the next few weeks training in Canada — wearing a wetsuit with a hood, gloves and boots to protect her from Tofino's cold waters — before heading to El Salvador with the Canadian team for a mini training camp ahead of the Olympic qualifier.
There, Olin will look to shock her competitors once more — just as she has in years past as the Canadian who does more than just show up at events — and win a bid to the Olympics.