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Mom's rice snacks fuel Olympic dream of Japan's surfing queen

China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-22 09:33
Japan's surfing prodigy Shino Matsuda has emerged as a medal contender for the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics. [Photo/IC]

Teenager eyes gold in wave-riding's debut at next year's Tokyo Games

KAMOGAWA, Japan - Teenage surfing sensation Shino Matsuda has a secret weapon as she targets gold at next year's Tokyo Olympics - mom's rice balls.

Hot-shot Matsuda, 16, caught the surfing bug as a curious toddler and has emerged as a medal contender for the host of the 2020 Games after winning the Japan Open earlier this month.

"That has given me so much confidence," Japan's new surf queen said in an interview with AFP.

"It also helped me figure out what I need to do to win tough competitions, so it was a good learning process. I love the rush of competing, but winning is awesome!"

Winning the Japan Open at the Tokyo 2020 surfing venue of Tsurigasaki - the second time she has won there - could give Matsuda a psychological edge when the sun-swept sport makes its Olympics debut.

Matsuda, who earned a spot at the world championships in Miyazaki later this year and a chance to secure a place on Japan's Olympic team, will also benefit from some good, old-fashioned home cuisine.

"My mom usually makes me 'onigiri' (rice balls) which I munch on for energy before I get in the water," said Matsuda, who has climbed to 39th in World Surf League's qualifying series.

Jellyfish stings

"When I compete overseas and mom's not with me it can be a bit of a struggle," added the Japanese poster girl, born and raised in Chigasaki, an hour south of Tokyo on the Pacific coast.

"But the Olympics will be in Japan, where I feel most comfortable - I was so happy to win the Japan Open at what will be next year's Olympic venue, that was big.

"I don't want to have any regrets so I'll work hard to get selected and will be going for gold for sure."

Matsuda faces competition from compatriots Mahina Maeda, Sara Wakita and Minori Kawai for what is likely to be a maximum two Olympic spots.

Kawai confided to AFP that she is still scared of the water - and sharks in particular - but Matsuda tweaks the nose of fear.

Asked about the possibility of becoming shark bait, the teenager shook her head with a giggle.

"I have been stung by jellyfish," she smiled after showing off a series of gnarly moves during a two-hour practice watched by her mother Yuki and faithful mutt Haina.

"That can be really painful, but I usually just try to carry on surfing."

Adrenalin junkie

Matsuda, whose parents were both recreational surfers, admits to being something of an adrenalin junkie.

"I started surfing when I was six and the big waves spooked me a bit at first," said the pony-tailed schoolgirl, who has won seven of her nine titles since turning pro in 2017.

"But I quickly became hooked by the thrill of it. I had never experienced anything like the feeling of riding a wave."

Matsuda's style combines outrageous raw talent and a graceful elegance, but she said touring the world to compete can extract a physical toll.

"The jet lag and the long flights are pretty tough," said Matsuda, who has competed in Australia, South Africa and the Caribbean over the past year.

"But it's great to compete against the world's top surfers. That's the only way to keep improving."

While she is, to use surf-speak, amped about next year's Olympics, Matsuda just loves being on the water.

"No two waves are the same," she said, attempting to describe what she loves most about surfing.

"You're competing against nature, and every moment is a pure test.

"When you catch a wave, you're constantly thinking and adjusting your technique - and when you nail it just right, there's no feeling quite like it."

Agence France-Presse


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