OLYMPIC DREAM: TEENAGE SURFING STAR ERIN BROOKS READIES FOR LAST-CHANCE QUALIFIER AHEAD OF PARIS GAMES

Erin Brooks picked up her passport in Vancouver on Jan. 18 to end a two-and-a-half-year fight to become a Canadian citizen and didn't hesitate to mark the occasion in typical Canadian fashion.

"I went straight to Tim Hortons to get my fix and then grabbed some bags of ketchup-flavoured Lays chips for my flight [that aren't available in the United States]," the professional surfer recalled in an interview with CBC Sports last week from her training base in Hawaii. "I definitely have some Canadian taste buds."

A few hours later, the 16-year-old attended her first Canucks NHL game at Rogers Arena, a 2-1 Vancouver win over the visiting Arizona Coyotes.

"People put so much heart into [being at the game] and had their face painted. I've never seen fans that excited," said Brooks, who was sworn in as a documented Canadian citizen two days earlier.

"I wanted to get a Canucks jersey but [my dad Jeff, a dual American-Canadian citizen] was like, 'Let's get one of Montreal because that's who I grew up watching and it would make your grandpa happy.'"

Erin Brooks flew back to Hawaii the next day ahead of a two-week training/selection camp in Puerto Rico, site of the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Championships, which run Saturday through March 3.

The nine-day competition, held in the municipality of Arecibo on the reef breaks of Margara, is the last chance for over 400 athletes to qualify for the Paris Olympics this summer.

3 Canadians in mix for Olympic spots

Mathea Dempfle-Olin, 21, from Tofino, B.C., and Brooks are vying for two likely spots in the women's competition. Dempfle-Olin's younger sister, Sanoa, 18, provisionally qualified for the Olympics by reaching the women's final at the Pan Am Games last October in Santiago, Chile. She only has to compete this week to confirm her spot.

"Mathea and Sanoa are such great surfers and nice people," Brooks said. "It would be hard to go [to Paris without one of them] because we're like a little family of girls."

"It's hard to predict what will happen," said Dom Domic, executive director for Surf Canada. "It's a bracket format so top two advance from each four-person heat and that continues to the finals."

Brooks won a silver medal at the 2023 worlds in El Salvador last June and is excited for the opportunity to realize her dream of securing an Olympic berth.

"I felt confident in all of the waves [at the recent camp] in Puerto Rico. I feel physically ready and mentally ready," said Brooks, who turned pro at 12 and learned a valuable lesson at worlds last summer.

"Last year I fell into the repechage round early because of a judging [issue out of my control] and had to go through 13 heats and five in one day. Focusing on taking it heat by heat will help me not get too nervous."

In Puerto Rico, the primary wave is slated to be Margara, a lesser-known reef break, while the twin breaks of El Pico and Rastrial offers solid waves.

"The waves remind me a lot of Hawaii, so I feel comfortable, and out of the water everyone is nice," said Brooks, who begins each day with a workout and four to six hours of surfing. "Whenever I like [a place] a lot I tend to do much better."

'The Olympics … is my dream'

Brooks, who was born in Texas and raised in Hawaii, missed Pan Ams after the ISA reversed its decision to grant a request from Surfing Canada and Canadian Olympic Committee to allow her to compete as her citizenship application had been filed but not completed.

"I feel I would have had a good shot [to qualify for the Olympics]. That pushed me more to get back surfing every day," she said. "I knew I only had one more shot to make the Olympics and that is my dream."

Besides the battle to secure her Canadian citizenship, Brooks has endured a lot away from the water, including the family home in Lahaina on Maui burning down about a year ago during wildfires that led to a move to Tofino. Brooks's mother also has cancer.

"I just keep my faith in God because I know he has a plan for my life," said the younger Brooks, who enjoys skateboarding and playing with her dog, Jimmy, in her downtime. "I don't want [my mom] to see me upset about her illness. She is happy, starting to feel and eat better, getting back into the gym and says I'm her ultimate motivation."

Competing on the men's side for Canada are the Young brothers, Cody and Levi, along with Wheeler Hasburgh, who scored a perfect 10-point ride for his first World Surf League victory earlier this month in the Dominican Republic.

"A lot of good momentum for the Canadian team and we have high expectations it will be more than Sanoa qualifying for Paris," said Domic.

Cody, 24, is the veteran of the Canadian squad. He was fourth at the Pan Am Games last October and seventh in men's shortboard a year ago at worlds while 19-year-old Levi claimed the highest single men's wave score at 2023 worlds in the repechage round.

2024-02-22T09:09:49Z dg43tfdfdgfd