Growing up on a Caribbean island means you spend a lot of time in the water… and if you live close to some good surf, you might just become an Olympian! Such is the case with Tessa Thyssen, a 26-year-old resident of St Barts who competes in the women’s world surf league.
This year her goal is nothing less than garnering enough points to qualify for the year-end championship, and use that as a springboard to qualify for one of the two spots available on the French national women’s surfing team competing in the 2024 Olympics! Interested in helping to cover her expenses? Please visit her GoFundMe page to make a donation.
Before we share all that’s involved in trying to qualify for the Olympics as a female surfer, let’s get to know Tessa a bit better. She was born in the Netherlands in 1997, and moved to Guadeloupe at age 2. By age 4 she was surfing boogie boards standing up in the shore break. Her father David bought Tessa her first surfboard at age 6.
At age 10 Tessa and her family moved to Saint Maarten where she lived for two years, during which time she became the regional champion in her age category and won the superior age category two years in a row.
Two years later good fortune brought her to St Barts when her father was hired by WIMCO Villas to work in their office in St Barts. Tessa joined the local Reefer surf club that operates out of a colorful surf shack on Lorient beach (you may have seen it pictured on the cover of the Jimmy Buffett album titled “Take the Weather With You”). She traveled around the Caribbean islands competing in regional events, and in 2012 she became the Caribbean regional champion in all three women’s surf categories. Tessa graduated to the junior circuit, and in 2013 she won the French national juniors title and the “Rip Curl Grom Search” European title.
Like any sport, competing in surfing tournaments means having to travel. In Tessa’s case, during the early years that meant flying around the Caribbean islands and to France. As she graduated to the junior circuit, events brought her to spots in places like the US, Australia, The Philippines, Bali, and even China.
In her early years of competing her father covered all of her travel and entry expenses. Once Tessa started winning junior regional events, some local sponsors and the local government of St Barts, (The Collectivité de St Barth) helped out. She also received a yearly grant from the French government when she because a member of the French junior team. Later the French adult surfing team started to give her a small annual stipend. However money was always tight, which meant that Tessa had to be very selective in deciding which events to travel to, and which ones she had to pass up, which was far from ideal when you are trying to improve your ranking.
In 2020 a knee injury slowed down her progress, and due to Covid, all women’s world surfing contests were canceled. The following year, contests were gradually rescheduled, and as Tessa’s knee was rounding in to form, her results improved. With positive results came increased support from sponsors, including swimwear company Vilebrequin, surfboard maker RT Surfboards, sports wear company Hurricane Surf and insurance company St Barth Assurance.
Tessa Thyssen’s top results in women’s surfing competition:
It’s one thing to watch the finals of a competition and note how hard an athlete is competing to win, and how extraordinarily good they are at what they do. What’s often not documented is how much work (and money) are involved in making it to the top.
Since last year, Tessa has garnered staff: coaches, physical trainers, and osteopaths. The more time they spend on her, the more money she will be spending.
The Olympic qualification is a bit complicated, but she has to earn her spot by getting great results. She has to do better than other French women surfers, as France only has two available spots for the moment. France could earn a 3rd spot by winning a women’s title at the next ISA world championships this year.
The Olympic qualification for women’s surfing is a bit complicated. Tessa has to earn results that are better than all but one other French women’s surfers, as France only has two available spots for the moment. France could earn a 3rd spot in the women’s surfing competition in the Olympics by winning a women’s title at the ISA world championships in 2023..
It costs a minimum of $100,000 to fund a year on the professional women’s surfing tour, with coaching costing extra. Winning or placing in an event earns one some funds, but prize money is quite small, so it’s not nearly enough to cover the expenses of training, travel, food, entry fees, and coaching. By adding sponsors and getting donations from supporters, Tessa will be able to pay for more physical and mental coaching, and more importantly, will be able to afford travel to more events. The more she competes, the better her chances of moving up in the rankings, qualifying for the year-end championship, then winning one of the two spots on the French national team for the Olympics.
Interested in helping to cover her expenses? Please visit her GoFundMe page to make a donation.
A gift from Tessa: When you donate you will be subscribed to “Tessa’s Road to the Olympics”. A monthly newsletter from Tessa that reports on her travels, her results, and the adventures she has along the way in her quest to qualify for the Olympics. We are reasonably certain it’s going to be a fun read!