KAULI VAAST CARVES PATH TO HOMETOWN OLYMPIC DEBUT
Living just a stone's throw away from Teahupo'o in Tahiti, Kauli Vaast quickly made a name for himself by fearlessly conquering the notorious left-hander. Beginning his surfing journey at the age of eight, Kauli's skills took him across the globe, winning numerous events and securing three WSL European Junior Champion titles.
Now a fixture on the WSL Challenger Series and with ambitions set on the Championship Tour, Kauli aims to solidify his position as one of Tahiti's all-time great surfers following his recent qualification to the 2024 Olympics at his home break.
FCS caught up with Kauli to see how he's feeling about competing on the sports biggest stage at a wave he knows like the back of his hand.
How's it feel to qualify for the Olympics? It must feel like you've achieved a bit of a goal.
It was a big dream and then this objective came in the middle of the year, so I'm kind of surprised. But the qualification was just insane and really hard mentally and physically because it was a hard contest with a lot of heats and a lot of pressure.
But you must have been pretty happy to get there and to be able to surf for a medal for your country in your own backyard?
Yeah, when they first said that the Olympics were going to be at Teahupo'o, it was a big goal but a lot of pressure, because of course, you want to be in there and represent the country and try to do the best if you qualify. It was a big motivation and a big dream first. And yeah, it was just unreal. The Olympics, first of all, for me, it's the biggest contest for an athlete. When surfing first joined the Olympics, it was insane because I was like, "Maybe I can have a chance to surf in the Olympics in my life and when they said it was going to be in Tahiti, I was just, 'Oh my God. Okay, this is a goal now.'"
You’re following in the footsteps of people like Jeremy Flores and Michel Bourez. They got to surf in Tokyo the year before last, but you get to surf in Tahiti. Does it feel good to follow in their footsteps?
Yeah, it was such a motivation. They both did the first surfing Olympics in history and it was just unreal to watch them. Michel and Jeremy are my idols. So I was like, "Oh my God, they did the Olympics. They made heats and stuff." It was a good contest and it was a dream to watch them surfing. The waves weren’t great, so it was hard for everyone, but it was a dream. I was like, "Oh my God, maybe one day I will have the chance to do it like them."
Have those guys spoken to you a bit about qualifying for the Olympics at all and what it's like?
Yeah, I spoke with those two. It was a hard competition and a lot of pressure. It's a different competition, like the village and stuff. For them, it was really, good to be in the Olympics and for every single athlete, the Olympics are something really special.
Have they given you any advice?
Not really, because after the games, they were just like “It's a contest that's going to change your life if you qualify, so just be super focused, do your own thing, and then be strong physically and mentally.”
Has your local Olympic Committee already begun to prepare you for what it's like?
Yeah. I did a lot of media and stuff when I was at home and when I was in Paris for four days. But for the moment I'm just super focused on one goal and that’s to qualify for the CT. I’ll kind of put everything on the side for the moment until next year and put all my energy into that big goal. The Olympics were the first step. It was really hard. I'm super happy. It was a dream for me to qualify, but it's just the first step.
Do you think that it's actually harder to qualify for the World Tour? Or was it harder to qualify for the Olympics?
It's harder to qualify for the Olympics because it was in one contest. And then for the CT, it's hard too, but you have more chances as you have six contests in a year. They take four good results, so you have to perform on four contests, but it's still hard. But I think for the Olympics it was the hardest one because they say when you have to be in the French team, and then when you go to the ISA Worlds, they told you have to be the top European. And imagine how many surfers there are in Europe. So it was really hard.
Talk to us a little bit about your love of Teahupo'o. Has it basically made you the surfer you are?
Yeah, I grew up surfing there and it is my favourite wave in the world. This is where I love to surf when I'm at home. I really love that wave and I feel like I have a good feeling with it. It's the best wave in the world for me and I think for many other surfers. There's no wave like this in the world. It represents a lot to me, and that's why I really want to put in the work. After Huntington, I’ll go back there, do the trials again and hopefully get a good result.
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