West African surfer in Santa Cruz to train for 2020 Olympics

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A West African surfer is in Santa Cruz to train for the 2020 Olympics, the first year the sport will be included in the games. (KGO-TV)

Surfing is a popular sport in the West African nation of Senegal. But it's a sport dominated by men and, it's believed, only one woman -- Khadjou Sambe.

She's in training in Santa Cruz.

You can find the 22-year-old in the water off Santa Cruz every day. She's aiming to go to the 2020 Olympics, the first time surfing will be an Olympic sport. French is her main language but even in English, you learn quickly she is a rarity in her home country.

RELATED: California governor signs bill into law making surfing the state's official sport

"My cousin and my uncle, surfing all the time," she says. "I think why not, I go surfing because I never see the girls go surfing." And so she did at age 14.

She learned about Rhonda Harper, who is a surfing coach and competition judge based in San Jose. The two decided it was a perfect match to up Khadjou's performance.

Coach Rhonda is on a mission to train more black women to go professional. "Recreational is one thing but pro surfing is a completely different arena, and there are not enough of us represented," the coach said.

It's a tough training regimen. Coach Rhonda has Khadjou out of bed at 6 in the morning, down at Steamers Lane or other spots, surfing all day and then hitting the gym as well.

Rick Pruett is also a surfing coach. The first time they hit the water together, he knew she was hungry to compete and win.

"As soon as we got in the water, she's being very aggressive in the water, hitting the lip, really hitting her bottom turns and cutbacks. Being aggressive and hungry, and that impressed me," said Pruett.

Next week, Khadjou is supposed to be in Japan for a qualifying competition, an important step to get to the Olympics. But fundraising has fallen short. With days to go, neither Khadjou or Coach Rhonda has given up. They're short about $1,400.

No matter what, Khadjou's passion for surfing runs strong.

"I like (to) surf. I'm in the water. I can catch the wave I like. And I go," she said.

And Khadjou Sambe is focused on being on the Senegal Olympic team.

If you would like to contribute to get her to the Japanese competition, you can go to the GoFundMe page set up by Coach Rhonda's Black Girls Surf organization.

For more information about Black Girls Surf, visit this page.

Take a look at the latest stories and videos about surfing here.
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