Putting a blindfold on helped Sally Fitzgibbons see more clearly.
With blindfolds wrapped around their heads, Australia’s Olympic surfers Fitzgibbons, Steph Gilmore, Owen Wright and Jules Wilson paddled out then surfed a wave when barely able to see. They had to guide each other through and on to waves.
They were with Australia’s winter and summer Paralympic champion Jess Gallagher, who had brought them to the beach to open their eyes by closing them. She wanted to restrict their sight so they would need to rely on each other.
That’s a high level of trust for anyone, but in a sport that is famously about individual expression, this was a moment of mutual reliance.
“Jess challenged us all to work as a team on tasks, like partially impairing our sight and getting us to paddle out into the line-up,” Fitzgibbons said.
She arrived in Tokyo along with Gilmore on Tuesday ahead of competition that starts on Sunday when as surfing makes its debut as an Olympic sport.
“It was so difficult. Owen, Jules, Steph and I couldn’t leave each other’s side. Trying to navigate a line-up and surf a wave with an impairment was wild. It was really good bonding.”
Australia has sent a team of surfers to Tokyo with strong medal hopes.
“Our team has grown immensely in the past two years,” Fitzgibbons said. “Whether it was team camps or bringing in ex-Olympians to talk to us about Games experiences, seeing their medals.