“After I qualified, I started vomiting so much,” said Leon Glatzer, Germany's newly annointed surfing hero who will be participating in the Olympic Games this year after a stellar performance at the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador.
“I was puking, I was crying, just feeling so weird. I had no energy to be excited. It was this culmination of everything that just finally needed to come out.”
Related: El Salvador Surf Trip
The 24-year-old, whose family are German but he was born in Hawaii before moving to California, had set a goal of qualifying for the Olympics four years ago, when it was first announced surfing would finally be a part of the games. A lot of his success has come down to being in a psychological 'happy place', which, for him, was a white room filled with goals written on paper.
Despite spending a couple early years in California, it was Costa Rica that opened the door for Leon's surf journey.
“My dad went to California to work and make money for us,” he said. “But my mum was a model and she had travelled the world. She was over it. She wanted to find a place where there was nobody, and she wanted to surf.
“So, we went to Costa Rica. That was when I was two years old. Somebody gave me a board with a broken nose, and I just fell in love with surfing. Then, later, for every ISA event, I’ve been on the German team.”
He was living in Pavones, far south in Costa Rica, and home to the country’s best lefthand pointbreak. It’s about as remote as it gets, and a surfer’s paradise. But he needed to go to school. So, unfortunately for Glatzer, he had to move away from his beloved Shangri-la of surf and move to the city for his studies. Luckily for him, though, that didn’t last long.
“I was losing my talent,” he told Dashel Pierson. “I would go to school with surf magazines, watch surf movies, and all that. And then, when I was 13, I’ll never forget this day. My mom came into the classroom, and she said: ‘we’re leaving to Pavones.’ I jumped out of my chair and ran out of the classroom. [Laughs.] Our whole lives were packed up in the car, and there was only a tiny little spot for me. That’s when surfing really started for me. I was so hungry.”
And his specialty, which he showcased in nearly every single heat in El Salvador, has always been in the air. Even from a young age, that’s all he wanted to do – so much so that he would “waste” long waves at Pavones just for one air attempt.
“Airs were always my thing,” he said. “I would race from the top of the point all the way to the bottom, just to do one air. Everyone was ragging on me because I would waste a kilometer-long wave for one air. And I would do it out the back, too. I was scared to land them in the front. But my mom believed in me. She always said I was going to land one. Then, I finally did. From there, I dropped this clip with a couple airs and, after that, four sponsorship contracts came in. I got to take my pick. And I decided to go with Volcom.”
When the Olympic opportunity arose, as mentioned above, his surfing life took a 180-degree turn. And with regards to the waves in Japan, which are polar opposites of what he’s used to at Pavones, how’s he feeling?
“I’m pretty tall and lanky, so small waves usually don’t go in my favor,” he said. “But we’ve been training a lot. After three years of training, they forced me to become an all-around surfer. Before, I was just the air guy and always on lefts. My coach made me go backside for like three months. I was so over it, but it helped so much. Now I love going backside. He would not let me do airs. If I did one, he’d make me come in and do 100 burpees. [Laughs.]”
So, he’s done the preparation, he’s got his mental retreat with the white walls, and all he has to do is put on the jersey, rep the German flag, and paddle out. No pressure, right? Eh, maybe not.
“After I qualified, I started vomiting so much,” said Glatzer. “I was puking, I was crying, just feeling so weird. I had no energy to be excited. It was this culmination of everything that just finally needed to come out. When I went to the ceremony, that’s when it really started kicking in. And when I got home after, I had my first beer. It was sinking in fully then, too. Then, later, at the party it was so real. Everyone was just congratulating me. And I was paying for everything. They wanted to buy me all the drinks, but nobody got out their wallets. I was just so grateful for everything that they had all done for me – all that support – so I wanted to thank them in any way I could. And that meant buying round after round of drinks. I was so, so happy.”