IN SCHOOL

Surf queen at 16!

PHOTOS: AFP

PHOTOS: AFP  

Japan’s top female surfer Minori Kawai braves jellyfish attack and shark scare,and now sets her eyes on Olympic gold

Just 16 and still afraid of the water, hot-shot Japanese surfer Minori Kawai has set her sights on Olympic gold after a stunning victory at the venue for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Kawai won last month’s Chiba Open in her own backyard, and feels she will have a psychological edge when the sun-swept sport makes its Olympic debut three years from now.

“It’s given me a huge lift in confidence,” the schoolgirl star told AFP in an interview before surfing next to the Olympic venue at Tsurigasaki beach, an hour outside of Tokyo.

“I never imagined I could win such a big competition,” added Kawai after becoming the first Japanese woman to win a World Surf League 3,000 qualifying series event at her tender years.

“It was like a dream and it took a while to sink in. But to win at Tsurigasaki, where I surf every day, was amazing. I got a taste for how the Olympics will feel and I’m sure it will give me an advantage.”

Kawai, who began surfing at just seven in her native Tokushima, western Japan, admits she still has to battle her phobias in the water after fearing she might become shark bait on more than one occasion.

“When I was surfing in Australia once, I saw a flash of a dorsal fin and thought: ‘Uh-oh, I’m going to get eaten’,” said Japan’s top female surfer, whose style combines lightning speed and seemingly effortless grace. “They told me it was only a dolphin that time, but then in Gold Coast I got stung by a nasty jellyfish and couldn’t breathe so they rushed me to hospital.”

Just when she thought it was safe to go back in the water, Kawai had another brush with disaster at a competition in Indonesia. “In Bali, I saw this big shark fin when I was paddling and carried on surfing in a bit of a fluster. I was petrified. The sea can be scary,” she said. “But you can’t become a better surfer if you don’t get in the water.”

Her recent victory was all the more remarkable given that she surfed on a sprained ankle and took painkillers before beating fellow Japanese Hinako Kurokawa in the final.

“Being able to travel the world at this age is a privilege so I take every competition very seriously.”AFP

The sea can be scary. But you can’t become a better surfer if you don’t get in the water



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