Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Leticia Canales fights for a place in the Olympic Games, where surf is being included for the first time

Posted on 4 February 2020 by Maitane Alaña Place
Photo by Edu Bartolomé

The World Surf League’s Las Américas Pro Cabreiroá is in its second day of competition in Tenerife and among the more than 150 world-class surfers taking part, Leticia Canales is there. After her disappointing finish in the Corona Open China, the Basque surfer is prepared to match last year’s silver medal.

“My first tournament of the year went quite badly because of an error from the organisation.” In surf, athletes know their turn in line through a colour panel system and this failed in China, as two colours were shown at the same time.

Photo by Edu Bartolomé

Canales is a young Basque surfer competing in the World Surf League, an independent private surf league. Last year she finished 51st in the world and fourth in Europe, but wants to improve that mark this year, which coincides with the Olympic Games.

“My dream is to go to the Olympics and I can achieve that by finishing in the Top 7 in the last pre-Olympic tournament in El Salvador”, Canales says. El Salvador will be hosting the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games from May 9-17, which will determine the final 12 qualifiers for Tokyo 2020.

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Last season, the young surfer finished 15th and regrets not having shown all her skills. Due to surf becoming an Olympic sport for the first time this year, Canales was included in the Basque Team – an institution created by the Basque Government to give support to Basque athletes in their international tournaments. This entity is based  outside Bilbao where Leticia stays and trains with her coach Jatyr Berasaluce, also a professional surfer.

“This year has been the first year I haven’t finished in the red,” Canales admits. Surf is an expensive sport if you don’t rely on the help of sponsors. Leticia has the Basque Team grant for sporting achievements and her hometown’s town hall also gives her a monthly grant. But, she says, there is always uncertainty about the following year.

Photo by Edu Bartolomé

The WSL requires an initial payment of $200 plus an annual insurance policy costing of $1,000 as well as an inscription fee for every competition the surfers take part in. Every tournament has different points linked to it, so the 1,500 point ones cost $150, the 5,000 point ones cost $250, and the 10,000 point ones cost $350.

When surfers finish the current season, they decide which tournaments to attend the next: “You have to decide in terms of wave characteristics, ranking, etc. but there are always factors you can’t control,” Canales says.

Up until this year, Canales travelled with five or six other women from the WSL tour and they divided the expenses. “It’s not only paying the competition fee, you also have to pay for the flight, surf boards, car, etc.” This year she can afford to pay for her coach’s flight and services.

Early surf life

Sopela, Leti Canale’s hometown, is a costal town outside Bilbao with surf as its trademark. She started with her father and older sister, competing at local tournaments where she was the only girl.

“My parents have never allowed me to neglect my studies,” Canales says. “In fact, they never let me travel without studying and doing my homework, alongside my competitions.”

Canales agrees with athletes to being obliged to continue their studies, because their professional life will end at some point. She is studying Sport Sciences at university, but is thinking of changing to Physiotherapy.

Sports Gazette wishes Leticia Canales good luck in Tenerife and, shortly after, in Australia.