Kolohe Andino has never strayed far from the sport he loves.
Though his first name, Kolohe, is Hawaiian for “Little Rascal,” he grew up in San Clemente, a California surfing hub halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Picking up the sport from a young age at home, Andino also traveled the world with his dad, Dino, a pro surfer who later worked in the industry.
“When you’re a young boy, you want to be just like your dad,” Andino said.
Andino, now 25, eventually followed his dad into pro surfing, and on Friday he did something Dino never had the opportunity to do.
By reaching the Round of 16 at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal competition in Peniche, Portugal, Andino ensured that he will finish as one of the top two Americans on the World Surf League Men’s Championship Tour, and also among the top 10 overall. That means Andino has secured his place in history as the first American to qualify for the Olympic Games in the sport.
“I wanted to finish world No. 1 and I knew that if I did that, it would obviously be good enough to qualify for the Olympics,” Andino said. “The WSL title race is getting down to the wire and some weird stuff has to happen for me to finish world No. 1, but I am just really stoked. I felt like I almost wanted to tear up a little bit. I went and told my dad, and I am so happy and could not be more excited to compete in Tokyo.
"Surfing is definitely unique and it is almost a lifestyle and an art, but it should be really exciting to compete there. I love my country and I always love watching the Olympics, so it will be really rad to be in the Opening Ceremony and to be a part of everything.”
The milestone was a long time coming for Andino.
Learning the sport under Dino’s tutelage, Kolohe was starting to get attention for his abilities by age 10. By 18 he was a regular on the Men’s Championship Tour, and going into the Pro Portugal event he had reached the podium 14 times — four of them this season.
Coming into Portugal, the penultimate event this season, Andino ranked fifth in the world, and tops among Americans. With up to two U.S. men being being able to qualify for Tokyo, provided they finish the season in the top 10 when factoring in that no more than two per country can go, competition is fierce, with four Americans currently among the top 13.
Hawaii native John John Florence, a two-time world champion, was ranked No. 1 earlier this season when he ruptured his ACL. He’s since missed five tour events and dropped to eighth, but he’s expected to return at the final event of the season. Even with a win at the season closer in December, Florence cannot surpass Andino and can only hope to claim the second U.S. Olympic men's spot. That leaves the door open for only 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, who is ranked 13th and could only surpass Andino with two wins.
Although Andino has finished as high as second on the tour, he still seeking his first tournament win.
In September, he got a preview of the Olympic atmosphere when he competed at the World Surfing Games, a non-WSL tournament in Miyazaki, Japan. Upon reaching the final round, Andino ended the competition with one last trick as time expired. That was enough to bump him up to second place for the silver.
Now he just has to do it again next summer, and he’ll be going home with an Olympic medal.