Surfer forced to hide Japanese roots during Australian riots to represent Japan in Paris Olympics

Surfer forced to hide Japanese roots during Australian riots to represent Japan in Paris Olympics
via @connoroleary / Instagram
Carl Samson
18 days ago
A world-leading surfer who once concealed his Japanese identity as a matter of self-preservation is now headed to the Summer Olympics to represent Tokyo.
Key points:
  • Australian-born Connor O’Leary, currently no. 10 in the world rankings, will represent Japan in the 2024 Paris Olympics, which will run from July 26 to Aug. 11.
  • He hid his Japanese heritage during the 2005 Cronulla riots, which was marked by racial tensions.
  • Teahupo’o, a renowned surfing spot in Tahiti, French Polynesia, will host the Olympics’ surfing competition.
The details:
  • O’Leary, 30, was born in Cronulla, New South Wales, to an Australian father and a Japanese mother. Known for his upset victory over surfing legend Kelly Slater in Fiji, he was named the World Surf League Rookie of The Year in 2017.
  • Growing up in predominantly white Cronulla, he felt compelled to hide his Japanese roots to fit in and avoid confrontation. The 2005 riots, in particular, left a lasting impression on him, amplifying his fears of being targeted due to his Asian heritage. He told the Sydney Morning Herald:

“It sticks with you, I was only 12, but it was a crazy time down there. Everyone was very cautious and it was dangerous, no doubt.”

  • The riots were triggered by months of racial tensions and a more recent brawl between a group of Middle Eastern men and three lifesavers at Cronulla Beach. In the ensuing chaos, mobs of Anglo-Australian people attacked Middle Easterners and others perceived to be of similar descent.
  • O’Leary switched his allegiance to Japan in 2023 and was selected to join its national team for the Summer Olympics earlier this month. He now speaks openly about his Japanese heritage, aiming to inspire those with multicultural backgrounds to embrace and be proud of their diverse identities.
  • O’Leary’s mother, Akemi Karasawa, a surfing champion herself, faced her own challenges adapting to life in Australia. But she eventually found her community and now “rules” Cronulla, O’Leary said.
 
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