• Alan Cleland Jr. (MEX) and Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) win first ISA WSG Gold Medals
• Tahitian Kauli Vaast (FRA) and Tokyo 2020 Silver Medalist Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) claim final remaining Paris 2024 Olympic Games continental slots
• Peru win fourth Team Gold Medals and the Fernando Aguerre World Team Champion Trophy, France claim silver, Brazil, bronze, Japan, copper
Finals Day of the 2023 Surf City El Salvador ISA World Surfing Games (WSG) was always going to be entertaining, but the combination of amazing surf, Olympic Games slots and ISA Gold Medals pushed the eight men and eight women remaining in the draw to their limits, providing an extraordinary display of athleticism and incredible surfing.
Men’s Gold Medalist Alan Cleland Jr. (MEX) was a major standout all week, but somehow the 20-year-old saved his best for last. With less than half of the Grand Final transpired, Cleland left his fellow, heavily experienced, competitors, Lucca Mesinas (PER, Silver), Miguel Tudela (PER, Bronze) and Kanoa Igarashi (JPN, Copper), requiring a combination of two excellent-range scores (8.00-10.00) to beat him.
Cleland absolutely decimated the heaving lefts of La Bocana, posting an 8.50 in the first few minutes before quickly backing it up with the highest single wave score of the event, a 9.73, for an 18.23 heat total, also the highest of the event. Mesinas managed to crack the combination in the final minutes, but by then the deal was sealed. Cleland had claimed Mexico’s second WSG Gold Medal in ISA history and he couldn’t have been happier.
“I knew I had to come in clutch because I was coming up against some of the best surfers, some of the people I’ve looked up to my whole life,” Cleland said. “The gold medal means everything, you know, after watching Jhony (Corzo in 2017) win the first one, that was something that I strived for and pretty much dreamed about every night.”
To top it off, if Jordy Smith (RSA) qualifies for the Olympics through the WSL CT, his spot will be reallocated to the highest ranked surfer from this WSG, so Cleland will bypass his current route to the Olympic Games, which would need to be a win at the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games, and immediately qualify for Paris 2024.
Team Peru Photo: Pablo Jimenez
Two-time ISA U/18 World Junior Champion and Tokyo 2020 Olympian Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) claimed her first WSG Gold Medal in an extremely tight Women’s Grand Final. 15-year-old prodigy and 2022 ISA U/16 World Junior Champion Erin Brooks (CAN), who had battled through eleven heats of repechage, held the lead for the majority of the final with a display of surfing far beyond her years. A two-turn backhand combo in the dying minutes gave Weston-Webb a 7.50, which was enough for her to jump from fourth position into first, leaving Brooks in second for silver, and French teammates Johanne Defay and Vahine Fierro to earn bronze and copper medals respectively.
“It’s a really, really huge honor, from the bottom of my heart to represent Brazil and to be able to come out on top,” Weston-Webb said. “I had so much fun at this event. Being around people from all over the world and seeing them surf in the ISA World Games is incredible. You see people from Afghanistan, Latvia, you know, it’s just crazy, you never think that those countries would have surfers but now it’s in the Olympics, it’s growing worldwide. I want to give a shout-out to everyone who wants to surf – do it, because it’s really fun!”
On the back of individual medals from Lucca Mesinas and Miguel Tudela, and strong performances from the whole team, Peru were able to claim their fourth National Team Gold Medals, edging just 23-points ahead of silver medalists France. Brazil held onto the Bronze Medals, while Japan earned Copper.
Alan Cleland Jr, Team Mexico Photo: Sean Evans
Tahitian Kauli Vaast (FRA) and Tokyo 2020 Silver Medalist Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) claim final remaining Paris 2024 Olympic Games slots
The final two Paris 2024 Olympic Games continental slots both came down to two-way battles on Finals Day. Kauli Vaast (FRA) and Gonzalo Gutiérrez (ESP) both needed to finish ahead of each other in the event for the European spot, as did Japanese teammates Kanoa Igarashi and Reo Inaba for the Asian spot.
The underdog story of the event has to be that of Gutiérrez. The unsponsored 25-year-old took out four Tokyo 2020 Olympians as he made his way through his first WSG, and he pushed Vaast every step of the way.
It was an incredible emotional release for Vaast to finally claim the slot. The 21-year-old Tahitian surfed every heat with intense focus. He could not hide how determined he was to earn the slot, nor how much it meant to him once he achieved that goal.
“This is something very special for me,” Vaast said through tears. “I worked hard to qualify one day. To have the chance to be in the Olympics at home, it was a big dream for me. I did everything to make it and now I’m in, I’m super-stoked. I made it.”
As both a local Tahitian and specialist of the Olympic Surfing venue of Teahupo’o, Vaast, along with teammate and fellow Tahitian, Vahine Fierro, enter the Olympic conversation as notable names to watch.
Reo Inaba (JPN) put up a strong performance all event, but a loss in the first heat of the day handed the Paris 2024 slot to his teammate, Tokyo 2020 Silver Medalist Kanoa Igarashi.
“It’s such an honor to be in this position,” Igarashi said. “I feel like Tokyo was just the other day. I have so many good memories from that event and from that moment. The Olympics changed my life. To be here again in a position where I can go there and represent my country and try and get another medal, it means the world to me.”
Minutes after hearing the news that he had qualified for Paris 2024, Igarashi kicked off the Main Event Final with a 9.00 ride. Flying down the line on a beautiful double-overhead set wave, the Olympic Silver Medalist opened with a searing down-carve, before smashing multiple critical sections to put on a display of precision surfing at its finest.
Igarashi also has the opportunity to qualify through the WSL CT. Should he achieve that double-qualification, Inaba will earn a Paris 2024 slot, due to his result in this event, as the next highest-ranked man from the continent of Asia. As a further bonus in this scenario, Japan would be able to choose a third male surfer to participate in Paris 2024, thanks to the men of Team Japan earning an extra slot through the 2022 WSG.
Tatiana Weston-Webb, Team Brazil Photo: Pablo Jimenez
ISA President, Fernando Aguerre was full of heartfelt thanks:
“A thousand times thank you for coming to El Salvador, for making El Salvador the center of the surfing world for these last ten days. I have no doubt that this is the best World Surfing Games in history.”
“Congratulations to the medalists, congratulations to everyone who came. From my heart to El Salvador, muchas gracias.”
Speaking at the Closing Ceremony, El Salvador Tourism Minister Morena Valdez said:
“In the same way that the leash connects to the surfboard, El Salvador connects with the heart of all of you, and that is forever. This is your home. Please come back, stay longer, or just don’t leave.”
Athletes Qualified for Paris 2024 Olympic Games
Jordy Smith (RSA) – Africa
Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) – Asia
Kauli Vaast (FRA) – Europe
Billy Stairmand (NZL) – Oceania
Sarah Baum (RSA) – Africa
Shino Matsuda (JPN) – Asia
Vahine Fierro (FRA) – Europe
Saffi Vette (NZL) – Oceania
Qualified to date via WSL CT
Tatiana Weston Webb (BRA)
Brisa Hennessy (CRC)
Johanne Defay (FRA)
Teresa Bonvalot (POR)
Gold – Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA)
Silver – Erin Brooks (CAN)
Bronze – Johanne Defay (FRA)
Copper – Vahine Fierro (FRA)
Gold – Alan Cleland Jr. (MEX)
Silver – Lucca Mesinas (PER)
Bronze – Miguel Tudela (PER)
Copper – Kanoa Igarashi (JPN)
Gold – Peru
Silver – France
Bronze – Brazil
Copper – Japan