OC’s Kolohe Andino beats USA Surfing teammate in bid for gold

The winners for surfing’s historic debut could be decided by the end of the night Monday, July 26, with three Orange County surfers still in the hunt for a spot on the podium.

San Clemente’s Kolohe Andino and fellow teammate Caroline Marks, who lives in the same town, are still in the running for an Olympic gold medal. Huntington Beach surfer Kanoa Igarashi, who is surfing for host country Japan, is also in the running for a podium finish when the contest resumes.

Huntington Beach’s Kanoa Igarashi, surfing for Japan, is still in the hunt for a gold medal. (Photo courtesy of ISA/Sean Evans)

Igarashi and Andino are scheduled to match up  in the quarterfinals when the contest kicks off at about 3 p.m. — meaning only one of them can advance, the other having to say goodbye to their Olympic dreams. Though the remaining match ups are scheduled for Monday, the ocean is the ultimate decider and the finals could be held on another day if surf conditions don’t hold up.

Surfing debuted at the Olympics for the first time ever at Tsurigasaki beach over the weekend, with both men and women competitors taking to the water in small, messy conditions when the contest got underway. There was enough push from a tropical cyclone to hold the event.

Sunday’s action saw a match up between  Andino and fellow teammate John John Florence, of Hawaii, both who grew up competing against each other as youngsters on the amateur circuit and later as the world’s best surfers as they battled on the World Tour.

But this time, something else was at stake — the chance at a gold medal.

USA Surfing member John John Florence, of Hawaii, was taken out by teammate Kolohe Andino, of San Clemente, who is still in the running for an Olympic gold medal. (Photo courtesy of ISA/Sean Evans)

Andino bested Florence during their heat, fickle ocean allowing Andino to kick off the event with a 8.5-point aerial and a total score of 14.83 for his best two waves. Florence, however, couldn’t find a second score to back up his 6.77-point ride, leaving him without what he needed to advance.

“John and I are very honored to compete for the USA, and whether it was ankle slappers or big standup barrels, it was going to be an intense heat and really fun to watch — one for the history books,” said Andino in a recap interview with the International Surfing Association. “I haven’t done a maneuver like that in seven or eight months. I surprised myself.”

Both Andino and Florence are coming off injuries that required surgeries in recent months.

Florence noted he was “stoked” when he saw the draw, calling it a “fun challenge, a fun battle.”

“I would have loved to win a gold medal, but I am pretty happy just being here and surfing against the best in the world,” Florence said in the International Surfing Association release. “I am going to take what I can from my experience and learn from it. Hopefully I will be here next time. I would love to see surfing in many more Games in the future.”

During the two days of competition on Saturday and Sunday, some of the world’s best faltered and would have to say goodbye to their Olympic dreams, including a surprise early exit for Australian world champion Stephanie Gilmore, who lost out to South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag.

“I was in the first heat of the day, going against the seven-time world champ, so I had nothing to lose,” said Buitendag in an interview with the ISA. “Today things went my way. A lot of things had to align for this victory. I just decided to control the things I can – good wave selection.”

Surfing is one of the only sports that relies on Mother Nature to deliver – and a heat with lulls that have surfers waiting for waves could make or break their Olympic bid.

Though there was more swell on the second day of competition, it came with harsh winds that caused a delay in the competition. But when it resumed, the event saw some of the world’s best put on strong performances to take out their opponents.

The ocean delivered more punch on Sunday, enough for Caroline Marks, a 19-year-old Florida surfer who now calls San Clemente home, to earn the top total heat score of the day on Sunday, with a 15.33 score that allowed her to advance to the quarterfinals when the contest resumes.

USA Surfing team member Caroline Marks is still in the running for an Olympic gold medal. (Photo courtesy of ISA/Ben Reed)

“I’ve definitely thought about the runway of Olympic Games in my future, but right now I am just trying to enjoy this moment in history. It’s so cool to be a part of this,” she said to ISA.

Still in the running are Brazil’s Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira, both among the world’s best, as well as Australian’s Owen Wright, who had the highest men’s total for the day to advance to the quarterfinals. Wright’s teammate Julian Wilson was knocked out of the event.

But there’s also a mix of up-and-comers like Portugal’s Yolanda Hopkins and Peru’s Lucca Mesinas hungry to take home gold.

Competition will continue at 3 p.m. Monday with the Men’s and Women’s Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Bronze Match and Gold Match.

More info: nbcolympics.com/surfing

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