St. Thomas resident Jon Gazi may be better known around the U.S. Virgin Islands as a musician, but his dream is to compete in the Olympic Games — and help pave the way for others to do so in the future.
That’s what has the 35-year-old Gazi traveling more than halfway around the globe, in an effort to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Gazi will open competition today in the men’s open division at the 2019 International Surfing Association (ISA) World Surfing Games, being held in Miyazaki, Japan.
“It’s well worth it,” Gazi said in a telephone interview. “We’re required to go to the ends of the earth to try and live these dreams of competing in the Olympics. It’s worth every moment.”
The 2019 World Surfing Games are one of four qualifying events for the 2020 Tokyo Games, from which the top-finishing eligible men’s and women’s surfers from four continents — Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania, which covers Australia, New Zealand and most of the Asia-Pacific islands.
The other qualifiers are the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour, from which the first 10 eligible men and first eight eligible women qualify; the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games (first four eligible men and first six eligible women), and the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru (first eligible man and woman). Japan, as the Olympics’ host nation, also gets one men’s and one women’s slot in the 20-surfer fields.
“I’ve been present at every opportunity to qualify for the Olympics,” Gazi said in a telephone interview. “I was at the 2017 World Games in France, and the 2018 World Games in Japan. I was also in Peru [for the Pan American Surf Games last November], because I could have qualified through the Pan Am Games.
“It’s the same as last year’s event, but it’s going to be a big time this year because all the top guys from the World Surf League are going to be here, because they’re required to participate.”
Men’s and women’s surfers from 55 countries are taking part in this year’s World Surfing Games — from noted surfing locations such as Australia, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil; to landlocked nations like Afghanistan, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland.
While the U.S. Virgin Islands isn’t noted for being a top-level surfing destination, Gazi said that doesn’t really matter.
“It’s so fickle here, that we are required to travel,” for training, Gazi said. “But look at the greatest of all time, Kelly Slater, an 11-time world champion — he’s from Florida, where the waves are very inconsistent and meager at best most of the time.
“He grew up making those trips, someone saw him and nurtured his talent. They put him on trips and was able to travel the world, along with many other guys. Their talent was just brought out of the woodwork. We have that talent, too. We just need to show the children the proper way.”
That’s why Gazi and several other USVI surfers formed the Virgin Islands Surfing Federation, which recently gained non-profit status and is looking to gain official sanction by the Virgin Islands Olympic Committee.
“Once they recognize us, we’re looking to start sending our team for some training trips, trials and competitions,” said Gazi, who is also the VISF’s president. “We’re going to try to develop a team to get into these Olympic trials.”
But first, Gazi wants to get through this week’s World Surfing Games.
“It’s more than just trying to qualify,” he said. “It’s an honor to represent the Virgin Islands on the world stage, and meet with all these other athletes from all these many countries, from the ends of the Earth.”