Surfer Jordy Smith qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics after Tokyo injury heartbreak

After missing out on the Olympics' first-ever surfing contest in Tokyo due to injury, Jordy Smith has qualified for the event at the Paris Games in 2024. Pat Nolan/World Surf League via Getty Images

After South African surfer Jordy Smith missed out on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a knee injury, he secured his place at the 2024 Games in Paris through the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador.

Next year's Olympics will be hosted in Paris, but the surfing event will take place in Tahiti, French Polynesia. Smith will be joined by Sarah Baum, the other South African surfer to qualify.

At the delayed Tokyo Games, held in 2021, Bianca Buitendag won silver for South Africa at the women's shortboard in Chiba. It was the first Olympics to have a surfing element, and Smith withdrew at the last minute to have knee surgery.

Smith, 35, told ESPN of the three-year delay to his Olympic debut: "I can't say that I'm hungrier; I would say that I'm more experienced and I would say that there's less pressure now, since it's not the first one anymore, so it's a little different feeling.

"It's only just recently happened [qualifying for the Olympics], so the steps I've got to take now as far as training goes and things like that, I'm sure there will be a bit of a rollercoaster - ups and downs - before it happens.

"We've got 18 months before the start. I think as the time gets closer and I'm more prepared, the nerves will subside. Right now, I'm just kind of bathing in the fact that I've qualified and enjoying the moment."

Of the conditions he will face, compare to those in 2021, Smith added: "Tahiti is obviously - the wave that we're going to be surfing has a lot more consequence [than the waters at the 2021 Olympics]... Japan was a lot smaller waves - very windy, small. For me, I prefer bigger waves suiting me a lot better.

"Teahupo'o, where they're going to have the wave, is one of the world's deadliest waves. It's absolutely just furious. The wave just comes in and I think it's going to put a lot of surfers to test. You're going to have to put your body on the line, your mind on the line, if you want to come out on top."

One surfer Smith feels will be ready for the challenging conditions is Baum, who he tipped to compete for a gold medal.

He said: "Having Sarah qualify - I've known her and grown up with her since she was a little kid and she's put everything into this qualification - her whole lifetime of surfing, learning and experiencing things. To share it with her is insane.

"I think she's going to be a great competitor in Teahupo'o. She is a goofy-footed surfer, which means that she surfs with her right foot forward and that's a huge bonus going into Tahiti - being able to surf like that. She's very good in the tube, which means that she has a high shot at winning gold.

"We saw Bianca - she was the same. She had her right foot forward - goofy-footed surfer - in Tokyo and she ended up coming away with a silver medal. She could have easily won that event. I think South Africa has got some very high chances."

Smith himself has a fair chance of challenging for the gold medal, but while Olympic glory is one of his top priorities, there are some more important still.

One is longevity in the water, hence why he made the choice to sit out of the Tokyo Olympics in order to preserve his knee in the long-term.

Another is the principle of respect for the environment, which is one he encouraged other surfers to promote. Smith aired into a floating trash can in a 2018 stunt designed to raise awareness about litter and plastic pollution in the oceans.

"The environment is everything to us, especially myself. My whole livelihood, my whole life, is surrounded by the environment and the ocean specifically is something we need to take care of," he said.

"Whether it's the use of plastics or anything like that, you just have to be mindful. I think through more education and educating the world and the public about how it affects the ocean and our climate - that's the most important thing."