2020 marks a new era for surfing. For the first time, surfers will become Olympians. 40 athletes, 20 men and 20 women, will represent the millions of surfers around world and become the faces of this historic moment at Tokyo 2020. The largest audience to ever witness the sport will be watching.
One of those surfers, well on his way to Surfing’s Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, is a 26-year-old goofy footer from Morocco, Ramzi Boukhiam.
Boukhiam captured a continental qualification slot with a stellar sixth place finish at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan as the highest finishing African. The sixth place was a breakthrough performance for Boukhiam, as he held his own against some of the best names in the sport. (Ferreira, Medina, Andino, and Slater, to name a few).
While Boukhiam’s qualification slot won’t be solidified until the conclusion of the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games (WSG) in May, which takes priority over 2019, you could say the odds are in his favor to fly the Moroccan flag in Tokyo come July. Two Moroccans will have to be among the top five male qualifiers at the 2020 WSG to strip away the slot, an unlikely scenario, especially given that Boukhiam will be one of those maximum three male Moroccans to compete.
So, who is the Moroccan surfer primed to burst into the limelight of the Olympic stage? The ISA caught up with Ramzi Boukhiam to learn more about him and get his thoughts while on the verge of Olympic qualification.
ISA: How does it feel to have a great chance to represent Morocco in the Olympics?
Absolutely great. I am extremely honored and proud to represent Morocco in the very first time surfing will be part of the Olympics. I still cannot believe this!
ISA: Take us back to when you realized that you had provisionally qualified? When was it exactly? What was going through your head?
We were actually having a drink in the hotel after I won my heat that day [at the 2019 World Surfing Games in Miyazaki] and I didn’t want to think too much about the different scenarios of “What could happen if….?”
But my coach Aziz Bouchgua was watching all the heats on his phone under the table and when the heat of Michael February [the other African surfer vying for the qualification slot] finished and he was sure about the fact Michael February lost, there was no doubt I was the only African surfer left in the event, which gave me the provisional qualification!
When he announced the news to me I didn’t realize the impact of it. I was just happy and proud. We celebrated a bit with some other people being in the hotel lounge and ISA President Fernando Aguerre came to congratulate me.
But when coming back home in Morocco and enjoying all the lovely reactions in my country, I started to realize that it was just unbelievable to be able to be part of Tokyo 2020.
ISA: Are you worried about the small chance that you could lose your slot at the 2020 World Surfing Games (WSG), which takes a higher priority over 2019 WSG if two Moroccans surpass you?
No, I am not really worried.
ISA: How has the reaction been back home in Morocco to the news that you could surf in Tokyo 2020? Are people surprised? Is the country aware of this potential historic moment?
The reaction was and is still enormous. Since coming home I’ve been very busy doing interviews on TV and for magazines, newspapers and so on. I cannot even answer all the demand because I also have to think about my season, starting very soon now, and my preparation!
The people here are very proud that a Moroccan will surf for the very first time in the Olympics. Surfing is not yet a sport known in the whole country, but because of all the media interest it slowly is starting to become more popular. In Taghazout (surf destination in southern Morocco) they even painted my portrait on a wall in the middle of the village.
ISA: What do you think your participation in the Olympics would mean on a national scale, in Morocco, and on a global scale, with the whole world seeing a Moroccan surfing among the world’s best?
On a national scale it would definitely make the whole surfing scene more popular in Morocco. I hope that finally national sponsors will wake up and start to sponsor us, surfers from Morocco. There is so much talent but we need their help!
On a global scale it puts Morocco definitely on the surfing map, a country not to forget with a lot of talents!
ISA: Tell me about your background? When did you start surfing? What has surfing meant for you in your life?
I have a Moroccan father and a Dutch mother. I grew up in Agadir and I started surfing at 9 years old. My brother Samir already was a surfer and he pushed me! My parents took us to the beach every free moment so we could surf.
During our school holidays we always went to a surf camp in Oualidia in the north of Morocco. The owner sent me to France for grom contests, so I started my first competitions and got sponsored by Quiksilver. Surfing changed my life. When I became a professional surfer I left school to be able to travel the world and attend the surf competitions.
ISA: Tell me about your childhood, what was the best part?
My childhood has been very very happy. I was (and still am) surrounded by a group of friends, all surfers. We spent all our weekends and Wednesday afternoons on the waves.
We were all dreaming about the pro surfers, watching all the surf videos of our idols. We didn’t have any sorrows on our mind. We were just enjoying our childhood..
ISA: What was the most difficult part?
The most difficult part was losing my father. I was only 11 years old. A lot changed after this. Two years later we left Morocco for the Southwest of France, near Biarritz. It was good for my surfing, but I hated the cold winters in France. I never got used to it. My brother and I went to new schools, my mom was working all day. The beginning was hard, but we quickly made a lot of new (surf) friends.
ISA: For the non-avid surfing fan who doesn’t know who you are, what do you most want them to know about you?
I want them to know I am very proud to be a Moroccan first of all. I enjoy life, love my family and love to hang out with friends.
ISA: What are you proudest of in your life?
I think this qualification and trying to represent my country the best I can.
ISA: Any message that you would like our followers to hear?
Don’t ever give up. Follow your dreams. One day it will take you somewhere…. Look at me!!
The International Surfing Association (ISA), founded in 1964, is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the World Governing Authority for Surfing. The ISA governs and defines Surfing as Shortboard, Longboard & Bodyboarding, StandUp Paddle (SUP) Racing and Surfing, Para Surfing, Bodysurfing, Wakesurfing, and all other wave riding activities on any type of waves, and on flat water using wave riding equipment. The ISA crowned its first Men’s and Women’s World Champions in 1964. It crowned the first Big Wave World Champion in 1965; World Junior Champion in 1980; World Kneeboard Champions in 1982; World Longboard Surfing and World Bodyboard Champions in 1988; World Tandem Surfing Champions in 2006; World Masters Champions in 2007; World StandUp Paddle (SUP, both surfing and racing) and Paddleboard Champions in 2012; and World Para Surfing Champions in 2015.
ISA membership includes the surfing National Federations of 108 countries on five continents. The ISA is presided over by Fernando Aguerre (ARG). The Executive Committee includes four Vice-Presidents Karín Sierralta (PER), Kirsty Coventry (ZIM), Casper Steinfath (DEN) and Barbara Kendall (NZL), Athletes’ Commission Chair Justine Dupont (FRA), Regular Members Atsushi Sakai (JPN) and Jean Luc Arassus (FRA) and ISA Executive Director Robert Fasulo as Ex-officio Member.
Its headquarters are located in La Jolla, California (USA).