(Reuters) - Mexico's Alan Cleland and Brazil's Tatiana Weston-Webb won gold at the World Surfing Games in El Salvador on Wednesday, but Team France was also big a winner as it qualified two Tahitians for the 2024 Paris Olympics at their home break of Teahupo'o.
Cleland and Weston-Webb were worthy champions after surfing through a gruelling schedule in hot temperatures and pumping surf all week at Surf City in El Salvador, with Cleland racking up the highest score of the event in the final.
Peru won team gold, edging out France, after two of its men made the finals in double-overhead waves at the boulder-strewn beach of La Bocana.
Kauli Vaast, a tube-riding wizard from the Olympic surf venue of Teahupo'o, just missed the finals but took the sole 2024 Games spot for the highest finishing male representing Europe at the International Surfing Association (ISA) event.
The 21-year-old joins fellow Teahupo'o local Vahine Fierro to form a formidable French team along with Johanne Defay, who had already qualified through the professional World Surf League (WSL) championship tour.
"To have the chance to be in the Olympics at home, it was a big dream for me," Vaast said. "I did everything to make it and now I’m in, I’m super-stoked. I made it.”
Teahupo'o is one of the world's heaviest and most challenging waves, where swells lurch out of deep water onto a shallow coral reef.
Vaast and Fierro finished second and third, respectively, at the WSL contest at Teahupo'o last year, both beating world and event champions along the way.
The top 10 men and eight women at the end of this year's WSL tour will take the first 18 of 48 spots available for Olympics, with the remaining spots decided through various ISA competitions.
South Africans Jordy Smith and Sarah Baum, New Zealanders Saffi Vette and Billy Stairmand, and Japan's Shino Matsuda and Tokyo silver medallist Kanoa Igarashi have also provisionally qualified from the El Salvador event.
Weston-Webb and Defay have already qualified through the WSL world tour, along with Brisa Hennessy from Costa Rica and
Portugal's Teresa Bonvalot.
(Reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)