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Mie girl, 13, making waves as budding pro surfer, with eye on Tokyo Olympics

Chunichi Shimbun

A girl in her early teens is making waves in the world of surfing.

Kokona Kawase, 13, a junior high school student in Shima, Mie Prefecture, became the youngest to pass the professional surfer test this summer, allowing her to compete in the world of pro surfing with older rivals from next year.

“I want to perform well in Japan and compete with people from around the world, representing Japan,” she said, indicating her interest in competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where surfing will be included for the first time.

One day on the coast of Shima, Kawase was practicing in open water, surfing through high, breaking waves.

The 163-cm teen looks much bigger when she is riding the waves in her wet suit.

Born to a family of surfers, Kawase was trained by her 43-year-old father, Fumiya when she was a first-grader. She won her first competition when she was in third grade by competing in the women’s division, which included adults.

“It was fun, being able to get better the more I surfed,” she said.

She began taking trips outside the prefecture in search of big waves.

Kawase had been training intensively on weekends and long school vacations, but when she graduated from elementary school in March, the family moved from Tsu to Shima, where her training center was situated.

She practices for two hours each day before and after school, and trains for eight hours on weekends and holidays. To improve her sense of balance, Kawase started building up her core muscles.

“I want to be as good as the top surfers,” she said.

In late July, she passed her first pro surfing test, organized by Nippon Surfing Association, in Tahara, Aichi Prefecture, at the age of 13 years and 2 months.

In competitions, a panel of judges scores each ride based on speed and technique level. In the longboard division, surfboards must be at least 9 feet (2.7 meters) long. In the shortboard division, they must be under 9 feet. Kawase competes in the shortboard division.

In the World Junior Surfing Championship, Japan was ranked fourth in 2016, higher than seventh in 2014, according to the NSA.

Last year, Kawase was chosen as one of the NSA’s top prospects for international competition, raising expectations for her to become a top surfer.

“What’s impressive about Kokona’s surfing is the speed and smoothness of her maneuvers,” said her father. “She is a fast learner and I look forward to seeing her grow.”

Kokona said she is always thinking about how to get better. Passing the pro test was simply a checkpoint.

“My goal is to join the world tour and compete in the Tokyo Olympics. I have to practice much, much more,” she said.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Oct. 4.