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Kelly Slater backs Tahiti for the Olympics—Is his support enough to silence the critics?

Poseidon may be the king of the sea, but Owen Wright is a close second. The world champion dominated the waves for over a decade now, and rightfully solidified his status as a surfing legend early on. The 2024 Paris Olympics is just 20 days away, and this will be the second time surfing will be featured at the Summer Games, after making its debut back in 2020, where Wright clinched his only Olympic medal – a bronze.

The surfing competition of the Paris Olympics will take place at Teahupo’o, French Polynesia between 27th July and 5th August. The coastal village is currently hosting the World Surf League’s Tahiti Pro. The waves are notoriously known to have a mind of their own, which many have witnessed throughout the competition. But that isn’t the only thing haunting the coast. The surfing venue recently came under heavy criticism for endangering coral reefs around the area. However, Wright has nothing but good things to say about Teahupo’o.

Owen Wright sings praises about Teahupo’o

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In an exclusive conversation, Wright opened up about why he thinks Tahiti would be the ideal location for Olympic surfing. “The venue itself could present the best surfing we see at the Olympic level in my lifetime,” he told Wide World of Sports. Given how he has previously surfed at the location, the Australian couldn’t be happier for the Summer Games to pick it. “They’ve gone to the effort to put surfing in possibly the best location that it could be,” the 34-year-old added.

Poll of the day

Do you think the Paris Olympics should reconsider Tahiti as the surfing venue?

Yes, it's too controversial

No, it's a perfect choice

Maybe, but need more information

Adapting to the unpredictable waves will be another factor the elite surfers will have to consider in the competition. Wright reiterated this point, “French Polynesia, Tahiti has the best wave in surfing so we will probably see the best Olympic Games for surfing until the Games return.” While surfing through large unruly waves might not seem as enticing to us, it adds a thrilling element to the sport in itself. “I couldn’t be more excited to see what happens here — this honestly could be the best one we see,” the surfing legend excitedly confessed.

If Owen Wright says this could be the best, then it might as well be. But many still aren’t convinced. His comments come hot on the heels of a metaphorical storm that left Teahupo’o not too long ago. Leading up to the preparation of hosting the events at the Olympics, the committee was looking to construct an aluminum judges’ tower. However, this decision was met with heavy backlash from the local communities.

During the World Surfing League, they would use a wooden tower which would then get taken down after every event. However, the 2024 Summer Games wanted to create something substantial while meeting safety standards. The locals heavily disagreed and believed that the wooden tower would be a much better option. With the new construction, there would likely be irreversible damage to the coral reef. It would create a domino effect putting the perfect wave and marine ecosystem in grave danger.

However, despite all their concerns, the tower’s construction reached its completion earlier this year. While the damage to the reef is fairly minimal, it will be a while until it’s established if the local marine ecosystem has adapted to it.

The surfing legend’s love for the waves

Owen Wright has had an illustrious career full of big splashes and a few wipeouts. In 2015, the world champion was preparing to compete in the Fiji Pro season in Hawaii. After a successful practice session, on his way out of the sea, a huge wave crashed into him. Despite knowing his way around the ocean, Wright couldn’t find his way out of that and got hit by several waves consistently. Despite seeming okay right after, he found himself in the hospital due to a near-fatal head injury.

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Many weren’t too sure if the veteran would be able to come back from this. But after spending 2 arduous years in recovery, he made a triumphant return, in the WSL. The Australian clinched an impressive win at the Gold Coast, leaving everyone stunned. Wright then shifted his focus to bringing home the Olympic glory at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and by edging out Gabriel Medina, he ended up clinching an Olympic bronze at Tsurigasaki Beach.

While the surfing legend loves the waves, he decided to retire from the sport at the Bells Beach Classic in 2023. The Olympian had been through enough close calls on dangerously high waves, and he just wanted to take a step back. That has, however, not stopped him from riding the waves. He still occasionally surfs, but he wants to do it without all the pressure that comes with the sport.

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As we inch closer to the Summer Games, Teahupo’o will continue their Olympic preparation. Despite the backlash surrounding the judges’ tower, it will be thrilling to watch the world’s best surfers weave through the waves. Do you agree with what Owen Wright has stated about the upcoming surfing competition? Let us know in the comments!