Groundbreaking kitesurfer Tiger Tyson’s fight for the environment

January 18 2024

When he arrives in France for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games this summer, kitesurfer Tiger Tyson will have his eyes fixed on one clear goal: securing Antigua & Barbuda’s first-ever Olympic medal.

Groundbreaking kitesurfer Tiger Tyson’s fight for the environment

But the athlete is also on a mission to raise awareness of environmental issues, drawing on the power of the athlete profile to protect the ocean he has spent his whole life connecting with.

So how is the young athlete preparing for these two giant challenges that lie ahead?

The journey to Paris 2024

Tyson, who turned 21 last year, has spent his life in close proximity to the ocean.

Born in New Zealand, he spent the first two years of his life travelling the world on a sailing boat with his parents before settling in Antigua, where he has lived ever since. He began kitesurfing at the age of seven.

“It was just for fun – my dad started learning, and I joined in,” Tyson tells Global Sustainable Sport.

In 2015, the International Olympic Committee Executive Board announced that kitesurfing would be included as an official event at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

This was a milestone in global governing body World Sailing’s long-running bid to include kitesurfing – or kiteboarding, as it is also widely known – as an official event in the main Olympic games.

As soon as the sport was announced, Tyson knew he wanted to compete.

“I started training for that immediately – I got a coach and had two years to train, enter competitions, and get myself ready,” he says.

In early 2018, when Tyson was 15, he won the North American and Caribbean Qualifiers. The Summer Youth Olympic Games were held later that summer in Argentina, and Tyson ultimately placed fifth.

Immediately after the youth Games, Tyson began training for the full Olympic Games: in 2019, kite foiling — or hydrofoil racing — had been formally announced as an event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

This was a change from Tyson’s earlier competitions: the youth Olympics had used a standard, rather than foil, board.

In the years since the youth Games, Tyson has concentrated on training and qualifying for the main Games, competing in the Pan American Games, Caribbean championships, and World Championships in the meantime.

Finally, in November last year, came the continental qualifier. Only one country from all of North America could qualify for the Olympics, including the US, Canada, Mexico, and all of the Caribbean.

After days of tough competition, Tyson secured a silver medal – and officially secured his place at Paris 2024.

The achievement made headlines, and put Tyson on track to break records when he competes in France this summer. Not only is kiteboarding making its Olympic debut, but Antigua & Barbuda will be looking to secure its first-ever Olympic medal.

“Now that I’ve qualified, I’m going to do everything possible to win a medal,” Tyson says. “That’s always been my ultimate goal – to try and win the first medal for Antigua & Barbuda.”

Protecting the ocean in the Caribbean and beyond

While his impressive journey to the Olympics has grabbed headlines, Tyson is also a passionate advocate for the environment.

As Global Sustainable Sport has previously reported, marine sports have often been at the forefront of activism and action on environmental issues. Sailing, in particular, puts athletes in close connection with the ocean, driving their awareness of issues like plastic pollution and reinforcing the need for sport to play its part in reducing its impact on our environment.

“I’ve been living on the ocean and on boats,” Tyson says. “I live by the sea, I go in the ocean every day. It’s one of my passions to be as sustainable as possible, and to take care of it where I can.”

Tyson has become particularly aware of issues facing the ocean in his local Caribbean Sea. This includes coral bleaching, which has significantly affected reefs in the area.

“The reefs in Antigua are extremely affected by coral bleaching,” Tyson says. “Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, it’s a completely different sea.”

Coral bleaching is primarily caused by an increase in ocean temperature, as well as runoff, pollution, and low tides — all of which can be aggravated by climate change.

Last year, which was confirmed as the hottest on record, also saw record ocean temperatures, threatening already-vulnerable coral reefs.

Scientists from NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch warned that the record heat has caused major stress to coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, northern Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea.

Meanwhile, Tyson has also become increasingly aware of the problem of sargassum seaweed. “That’s a big one for us in the Caribbean,” he says.

Sargassum is a seaweed that has been spreading faster, and in larger quantities, due to sea temperature rise. The result is loss of marine habitats, erosion, and the death of marine life, as well as effects on tourism as the seaweed accumulates on beaches.

“It’s really affected the island,” Tyson says. “And that’s just one example of what we’re doing to the oceans.”

Travelling the world for training and competitions has also shown Tyson that problems are widespread, particularly when it comes to plastic pollution.

“I’ve raced all over the world, and since we’re using foils, we’re affected by every little thing in the water,” he says. “And in most places we go, we’re worried about garbage.”

Coming into such close contact with so many threats to ocean health has led Tyson to work with Just One Ocean, a charity that raises awareness of ocean issues. Tyson is an ambassador for the organisation, and recently worked with them on a mangrove project.

The power of the young athlete voice

 Tyson is clear about the need for athletes, and particularly young athletes, so speak up on environmental issues.

“From my experience, when you’re an athlete and have some sort of success, you gain a lot of attention,” he says. “I think athletes can use that to their advantage – to educate.”

Younger athletes, he says, have a particular role to play when it comes to engaging younger audiences.

“It’s probably even more important for younger athletes, because they have the attention of the younger audience, and that really matters,” he says. “With social media, so many people are watching you and following your successes and your stories and your travels – so if you can just post even the occasional thing about the environment, people will read it.”

The world of sport has long discussed the critical role that athletes can play in raising the profile of sustainability: organisations like EcoAthletes, Athletes of the World and High Impact Athletes all attempt to translate athletes’ unparalleled profile and platform into meaningful change.

While some athletes may be hesitant to amplify their feelings on environmental issues, particularly when they feel they lack expertise, Tyson argues that it is always worth speaking out.

“There’s not much harm in at least trying to put something out there,” he says. “On the environment, I think most people will agree: simply, there’s something wrong.”

For Tyson, the next six months will be fully focused on training and preparations for this summer’s Olympics, when the athlete will face his biggest athletic challenge yet. But, as he looks to the longer term, he’s committed to continuing his environmental work.

“After the Games, when I have more time, hopefully I can work on more projects,” he says. “Any projects, anywhere in the world, I’ll happily go and try to help influence others to join in.”

For now, though, all eyes will be on Paris 2024, where history is set to be made. Hopefully, Tyson can continue his winning streak – for his sport, his country, and for the planet.

 

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