By Steve Keating
LIMA (Reuters) – Peru rode a wave of support from a raucous home crowd to win three Pan Am Games surfing gold medals on Sunday, carrying Daniella Rosas and Luca Mesinas all the way to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
After getting the Games off to a dream start last Saturday, sweeping the men’s and women’s marathon golds, Peruvian surfers ruled the waves at Punta Rocas to secure three gold with Benoit Clemente also taking top spot in the men’s longboard.
There were also three silvers to go along with Peru’s golden haul making it the host’s most successful day ever at the Pan Am Games.
The three golds they snared on Sunday matched Peru’s total haul four years ago in Toronto.
As winners of the men’s and women’s shortboard, Rosas and Mesinas punched their tickets to next year’s Olympics where surfing will make its Games debut.
“The crowd was 100 percent, you could feel the good Peruvian vibes,” said Rosas, who beat Ecuador’s Dominic Barona for the top spot on the podium.
“I didn’t feel nervous on the last wave because I knew I could do it, I have been practicing a lot, I have been trying so hard.
“I have sacrificed so many things that I am so proud to be here. I hope we have a good time in Tokyo.”
The crowd, that included Peru president Martin Vizcarra, were already in full party mode as they celebrated Rosas and Clemente’s golds. Mesinas competed the hat-trick with an upset victory over Argentina’s Leandro Usuna, the World Surfing Games men’s open champion in 2014 and 2016.
As Mesinas stepped out of the water waving the Peru flag, he was hoisted onto the shoulders of team mates and carried off the sand.
Colombia also celebrated double gold with Isabella Gomez women’s standup paddle and Giorgio Gomez the men’s.
While the surf venue and competition earned high praise from the International Surfing Association (ISA), Punta Rocas was not Surf City.
Instead of images of the Beach Boys and Endless Summer, the Pan Am Games were more Endless Winter as surfers competed wrapped in heavy neoprene to protect them from the cold surf.
In the midst of a dreary Peruvian winter, there was just as much chance of spotting a polar bear among a chilled crowd covered in winter jackets, scarfs and woolly hats.
Peru war ships, commandos on rafts hovering on the horizon and riot police in full gear took away from surfing’s famous chill attitude.
“Nothing else matters, everyone is behind us, I am super happy,” said Rosas. “They have supported us even if surf is not so popular but we hope it gets more popular.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)