When Connor O’Leary was growing up in Cronulla in New South Wales, Australia, the last thing he expected was to become a role model.

O’Leary was shy and insecure as a child. The son of a Japanese mother and an Australian father, he was hesitant to embrace his Japanese heritage in public for fear of being the center of attention because he was different. All he wanted to do was fit in. So, he said, he was Japanese at home and Australian everywhere else.

Now 30 years old, O’Leary, a pro surfer on the World Surf League Championship Tour, looks back with slight disappointment that he did not fully embrace his dual heritage back then. But O’Leary is full of pride about his background now. He will represent Japan in the surfing competition at the 2024 Paris Olympics. He will also ride the waves in Tahiti, where the surfing events will take place, for children of dual heritage who may harbor the same feelings of insecurity he once did.