Olympics: Surfers ride out pandemic in paradise ahead of Games debut

(Reuters) - Athletes around the world have searched for ways and places to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for the Tokyo Olympics but surfers Brisa Hennessy and Michel Bourez may have found two of the best.

While some worked out in backyard pools or turned cramped basements into weight rooms, Hennessy and Bourez, who have both provisionally qualified for the COVID-delayed Tokyo Games, escaped to paradise.

Hennessy, a self-described nomad from Costa Rica, escaped to a tiny island in Fiji while Bourez, who surfs for France, hid out in Tahiti.

"During the pandemic we were in Australia and my dad is like ok, I'm going to book a flight we have got to get out of here we need go back to Fiji and we need to do it now," Hennessy said during a International Surfing Association State of Olympic Surfing briefing on Thursday.

For Hennessy, the move was an opportunity to recharge her "mind, body and soul" and surf every day, providing a reminder of why she fell in love with the sport, which she was introduced to at an early age by parents who are both surfing instructors.

The 21-year-old Costa Rican believes many of her fellow surfers will have been washed over by the same wave of energy and will be even more ready for Tokyo where surfing will make its Olympic debut.

"It gave me a greater appreciation of what I am able to do as an the athlete," Hennessy said. "I believe athletes are going to come back and be more talented, more passionate. They are going to be more driven."

Despite the rare luxury of spending time at home with his family, Bourez did not find the same connection and the 35-year-old veteran of the Championship Tour was left feeling lost.

"It was the first time for the past 15 years now that I spent a full year at home so for me it was incredible and hard at the same time," Bourez said.

"I have my wife, my two kids at home and it was weird for them too to see me every day but I was kind of losing my mind.

"At one point I didn't know where I was going, no passion anymore. I was like ok, I'm waking up for what?"

The new year, however, brought renewed purpose.

"The fire is still burning a lot," Bourez said. "We've been waiting for almost two years now just to be able to compete in the Olympics.

"When I am on Tour I am basically surfing for myself then Tahiti and France and now I am 100% focused on surfing for France."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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