Leandro Usuna’s road to the debut of Surfing in the 2020 Olympics has been nothing short of a roller coaster of emotions and surprises. Argentinian born and USA raised, Leandro has been an international favorite in the surfing community full of infectious energy and passion. Faced with hurdles not in an ordinary fashion, Leandro’s story has unfolded in a more dramatic fashion than most, landing him on surfing’s most prestigious stage to date. The 2020 Olympics is set to commence this month in Tokyo Japan. REEF recently sat down with the Leandro to take us through the ride.
TELL US HOW YOU QUALIFIED FOR THE OLYMPICS?
I got second in the Pan-American games to Luca Mesinas barely missing qualification then the unexpected happened. My misfortune turned positive this year when Luca Mesinas double qualified through the ISA World games and I was the next guy in line to qualify for Tokyo 2020. I guess it pays off to be the best alternate in the world. Haha.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO QUALIFY FOR THE FIRST EVER OLYMPIC GAMES FEATURING THE SPORT OF SURFING?
I am so honored. It’s a privilege to represent my home country of Argentina. I have a lot of friends that are like Olympians. They say It's not about being an Olympian, it’s what you do after the real question. So it's a pretty unique situation that you're in where not a lot of people get that opportunity to feel that type of life experience.
HOW HAS YOUR COMMUNITY RESPONDED TO YOU QUALIFYING FOR THE OLYMPICS?
My friends that I surf with everyday, see me and they're like, oh, he's an Olympian. I can do it. You know? It’s amazing when you see your friend succeed, it’s inspiring and motivating, they're like.. “man, if he can do it I can too.”
I haven't been back home and I just became a dad. It’s been 6 months and i won’t see my family until the games are over. This year was crazy for me. I qualified for the Olympics, had a baby and had braces on my teeth haha. This has been the best year of my life. I’ll remember this year and being a dad is the raddest coolest thing ever. And the community back home is so supportive. I got so many messages and tags and it's insane to feel the love from your hometown. I'm still trying to get back to everyone and it's been hard. So everybody's been writing to me a hundred percent and they want an interview. You know it's super hard to be away. It's super hard. I'm freaking out but at the same time, I'm trying to make it into a positive experience where I tell my kid when he's older, like…..I got to tell you a good story.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A REEF ATHLETE?
Reef is actually the first sponsor sticker I ever put on my board. I think it was like 96’, when I moved here and my dad worked for REEF.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY WITH REEF?
I just had such a, you know, like I feel like I'm part of the company. Like I started the company with you guys, you know? I've been here for so long and I've traveled the world and done so many trips with reef. And I met so many people because as a company, so many rad people and the greatest trips and contests were reef. I feel like Fernando and Santiago have a lot of passion from Argentina. Latin people and Brazilian people, people from South America have a lot of passion for what they do. And I feel they really push on whatever they are getting behind. I feel REEF was always a reflection of that energy. It was entertaining, they saw the entertainment factor and the fan culture collide. I feel like it's hard for me to put on another shoe or sandal. I've been walking with REEF since day one. My favorite memories are with the surf trips in the contest REEF always put on.
WHAT DOES THE REEF BRAND MEAN TO YOU?
It's definitely like family.
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH REEF FOUNDERS, FERNANDO AND SANTIAGO AGUERRE?
So Fernando and Santiago have known me since I was born. You could say that they're like my uncles, you know, cause they knew me before I knew myself. My dad was surfing with them before I was even born. I think that's what helped my dad get me into the sport too. He was like, I love this sport. I want to get my kids into it.
HOW HAVE YOU APPROACHED ADVERSITY AND CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED IN YOUR CAREER?
I think it's always about being consistent and with persistence. I've traveled the world so many times and been and alternate around the world at events just knocking on the door, waiting for my chance. I have flown to Africa twice and both occasions I didn't get to compete. I was so deflated. So I spend a lot of time with my dad and him always telling me, it's better if you go and not get in, then if you don't go and get in. Okay. Got it.
WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU ON THIS JOURNEY?
I mean, my dad always told me just be happy with what you do, you know, chase after your dreams, just be a good person overall, you know? Yeah. Just try to show that good humanity and you know, don't get too high on your throne and just try to treat everybody with respect and just be a good person. I probably have to start with my family, my brothers, ever since I was young, it's always been competitive no matter what we were doing. You know, seeing who runs faster, who gets to the ball or you who hits a ball further, you know? So it probably starts from there. And of course my dad and my mom pushed me into sports and being athletic and being always outside and playing, that just kind of changed my lifestyle from just enjoying nature and enjoying being outdoors a hundred percent. I was born in Argentina. So I lived in Argentina from when I was till I was eight. And then I moved to the US because my dad worked for REEF. And my surfing influence has been groomed in the US than it has from Argentina.
WHAT LEGACY DO YOU WANT TO LEAVE BEHIND AFTER COMPETITIVE SURFING?
I definitely want to get back to the sport. I want to help out the next generations from Argentina and believe they can get anywhere in life, get to the Olympics, get to the CT, get to wherever they want and they dream about, you know, that's what I think is key. I mean, I've been kind of already doing it, being an Olympian is definitely going to help me motivate more people. I own a surf school and have been doing some coaching and beach clean-ups in my local community at home.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HAVE FOR THE FUTURE OF SURFERS THAT ASPIRE TO COMPETE ON THE WORLD STAGE?
Anything is possible if you believe in yourself and are persistent in your pursuit. I hope the Olympics exposes surfing in a way that inspires more people to get in the water and enjoy what has given me everything I have.
Follow Leandro on Instagram!