Ambassador of El Salvador Gilda Velásquez Paz writes ahead of her country hosting the Surfing Olympic Qualifiers for Tokyo 2021
As we say farewell to a strange year, I would like to start by thanking Venetia van Kuffeler for giving me the opportunity to invite you to get to know El Salvador. Thinking ahead to the new year 2021, when we look forward to travelling again, it is my pleasure to invite you to El Salvador, host of the historic edition of the 2021 ISA World Surfing Games.
Even if you don’t practice the sport as an athletic participant, please do note that El Salvador is a country that offers beautiful landscapes, as well as the warm and friendly hospitality of its people, which is its greatest treasure. Those willing to give this Central American nation a chance, are surprised at how worthwhile a destination it is. Known as El Pulgarcito of America (or the little thumb of America), it is a country full of rich culture, natural beauty and a host of archaeological treasures, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Joya de Ceren – also called the Pompeii of America – a pre-hispanic farming village preserved by a volcanic eruption in the seventh century AD.
Packed with rich forests and rugged mountains; fringed by golden beaches and rolling waves to satisfy the most adventurous surfers and sun-worshippers – El Salvador’s other highlights include its epic volcanoes. Indeed, there are currently 23 active volcanoes dotted throughout the country. And, of course there’s its food.
Because of its small size, in El Salvador you can start your morning with a cup of coffee in its capital San Salvador and enjoy lunch overlooking the crashing waves on the coast. Visitors who love bohemian, beachy vibes will feel at home in La Libertad, a great place to learn how to surf or watch surfers crush the waves. And if you are already an experienced surfer, El Salvador is known to have the biggest concentration of great quality right point breaks. Surf is consistent and the winds are almost constantly offshore, so you get good surf all year round and the south swells can get up to 10 feet high. The best waves are found in El Zunzal, El Zonte and La Bocana beaches.
So understandably, we were pleased when it was announced that surf will be part of the Olympic Games for the first time. Surfing was included as one of the five new sports for Tokyo 2020, along with skateboarding, sports climbing, baseball and karate.
A year ago in November 2019, El Salvador hosted two prestigious surf international competitions, the ALAS Latin Pro running at La Bocana beach and the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard 2019 at El Sunzal beach in La Libertad. The latter attracted over 160 athletes and 27 delegations from around the world. The best competitors from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, England and Japan, met the waves at El Sunzal beach. The opening ceremony began with the sands ceremony, in which athletes take the stage and pour sand from a representative beach of their country into a single urn, as a sign of the peaceful union of nations through surfing.
After a successful competition, the International Surfing Association (ISA) announced that El Salvador had been chosen as host of the 2020 competition where 12 Olympic Qualifiers (seven women and five men) would be determined, making it a historic edition of the event. Covid-19 has meant the event was postponed, and it will now take place next May 2021 across two waves at El Sunzal and La Bocana beaches.
The 12 surfers to qualify for Tokyo 2021 next May in El Salvador will join a total of 20 men and 20 women to compete in Surfing’s Olympic debut, joining athletes that qualified through the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour (WSL CT), 2019 ISA World Surfing Games, and Lima 2019 Pan American Games.
As President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele said: “We are proud that our country will always be remembered and associated with the historic recognition of surf as an Olympic sport.” He added “We welcome surfers and tourists from around the world. This event will be the window to show our world-class waves and destination: Surf City El Salvador.”
Tourism is one of the main investment sectors being promoted in El Salvador. ‘Surf City’ aims to create a beach circuit in seven of the 14 regions of the country. Hosting the ISA World Surfing Games is the next step in El Salvador’s five-year ‘Surf City’ strategy to promote the tourism opportunities for the country’s beautiful beaches and coastline.
Furthermore, last October the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) granted El Salvador the Safe Travels Stamp, which allows travelers to identify countries that have adopted global protocols from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and supported by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
After evaluating the eight biosecurity protocols implemented for the tourism sector that were created by the Ministry of Tourism together with other El Salvador government institutions, the stamp was granted. This positioned El Salvador among the first countries in the region to obtain this seal of biosafety standards, adapting the tourism offering to international standards and requirements, related to health and hygiene that are required in the ‘new normal.’ An additional characteristic is that El Salvador has obtained the Safe Travels Stamp as a whole country, unlike others in the region to which it has been granted only for certain cities or tourist destinations.
Let’s welcome 2021 by enjoying the waves on El Salvador’s sunny beaches. I will conclude by quoting President Bukele: “This Olympic qualifying event is a milestone for Surf City El Salvador, and we are certain it will contribute to the consolidation of our beautiful country as a premier destination for surfing. This is a historic championship for the sport. We are honoured to host the world’s top surfers and show them all the good things we have to offer.”