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10 under 20

Twelve-year-old competitive surfer Mathea Olin says that, while she’d love to be in the Olympics, she’s also focused on the professional circuit and, really, just finding a way to keep getting better at a sport she loves.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The Globe's B.C. bureau is profiling 10 young people under 20 who are doing great things in fields ranging from arts to science to activism.

Mathea Dempfle Olin is riding a wave, manoeuvring her surfboard in pursuit of speed, power and flow, the holy trinity of surfing skills and elements that can be deciding factors in surfing competitions.

On this November day, 12-year-old Mathea isn't competing with anyone, except perhaps her younger sister Sanoa, 10, who, like her older sister, has been surfing for years and for whom the Pacific Ocean is backyard, training ground and playground rolled into one.

But there is a coach on shore, recording Mathea's moves and looking for ways she can improve her stance or make her turns more fluid.

Beyond her skills – which allow her to compete with girls several years older than she is – Mathea and her sister work hard and have a "really positive vibe" that persists even when the winds are up and the rain is driving sideways, he says.

"Those kids will go out in anything," says Shannon Brown, a Tofino-based surfing coach and instructor.

"That kind of stuff you can't teach people. Either you love it that much or you don't."

Mathea loves it – enough that she is pursuing it with an eye on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Surfing is not yet an official Olympic sport. But it is the closest it has ever been since legendary Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku suggested during the 1912 Olympic Summer Games in Stockholm that surfing be added to the roster.

In September of 2015, the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee proposed surfing – along with baseball/softball, karate, skateboard, sports climbing and surfing – for inclusion in the 2020 Games. A final decision is expected in August, 2016.

The International Surfing Association welcomed the prospect, maintaining that new sports such as snowboarding and BMX cycling have brought vitality and younger fans to the venerable Olympic movement.

Critics, meanwhile, are questioning the logistics of bringing a famously free-spirited sport under the Olympic umbrella, not to mention the cost of wave parks to produce performance-worthy waves. (The organizers of the Tokyo 2020 games have said surfing would take place on natural ocean waves if it is included in the Games.)

For young surfers such as Mathea, the prospect of being in the Olympics adds another dimension to the sport, which has grown in scope and profile on Canada's West Coast in recent decades.

Tofino has surfing schools, high-profile competitions and has turned out winning competitors including Canadian national champion Peter Devries.

Year-round access to waves, improved wetsuit technology and a supportive business community have all contributed to surfing's increased profile in B.C., says Dom Domic, president of the Canadian Surfing Association.

"It looks like the next generation, there might be a lot more kids coming up – which is really, really fantastic," Mr. Domic says.

Mathea is one of them.

In May, she finished second in the Pro Women's category of Rip Curl Pro Tofino. In October, she placed in the top four in several categories of Tofino's Queen of the Peak women's surf championship. Later the same month, she reached the quarter-finals in the under-18 division of the World Junior Surfing Championship held in Oceanside, Calif.

Such results have brought her first commercial sponsors on board and expectations that she'll be one to watch in coming years.

Mathea paddles into those expectations and rolls with them. Sure, she'd love to be in the Olympics, she says. But there's also the professional circuit and, really, just finding a way to keep getting better at a sport she loves.

"Mostly, it's my connection with the water," she says, when asked for her favourite thing about surfing. "I just really love the way it makes me feel."