SYDNEY (Reuters) - Some of the world's best surfers, including twice world champion John John Florence, are enjoying the relative freedom of life in Australia as they resume their preparations for surfing's Olympic debut at a World Surf League event this week.
The surfers underwent two weeks of quarantine after arriving Down Under and finally got back to competition in the Newcastle Cup on Thursday -- the first of four tour events being held in Australia over the next two months.
Australia has been more successful than most countries in containing the new coronavirus and Florence was very much enjoying the lack of restrictions in the port city northeast of Sydney.
"It's pretty weird walking to a restaurant and like, 'oh no I forgot my mask' and then you realise you like just don't need it here, so it's cool," the American said on the eve of competition on Wednesday.
"Seeing everyone out and about and exercising and surfing and beach days and everything, it just feels normal and so it definitely feels good to be back into that."
As well as competing for a third world crown this year, Florence will have the chance in Tokyo to become the first Olympic champion in a sport which originated in his home state of Hawaii.
"Pretty much all my Olympic preparations are just being here and competing on the tour, ... I feel like that's pretty good preparation," he added.
"You're competing against the best surfers in the world and some of the most challenging conditions too. So a lot of my focus is just doing well in this and hopefully it will translate over the Olympics."
The 28-year-old made light of the three-month wait since his last competition at the Pipeline Masters by sweeping through his heat with the top score on Thursday morning.
Florence's fellow Hawaiian and Tokyo hopeful Carissa Moore, the reigning women's world champion, was also enjoying the freedoms of life in Australia ahead of the start of her competition later on Thursday.
"It's different to be here in Australia where there really isn't COVID and to not have to wear a mask everyday," she said on Wednesday.
"Being able to hug people especially, that's something I really missed."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)