An artist's depiction of the beach from the water at the 2020 Olympic games.
Breaking: It's Official, Surfing Is An Olympic Sport
To be hosted in Chiba for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Today, the International Olympic Committee officially recognised surfing as an Olympic sport for the 2020 Tokyo Games. After a final confirmation vote by the I.O.C. in Rio earlier today, surfing will join skateboarding, sport climbing, baseball, softball and karate as new additions to the Olympic Games.
“Using an analogy, we were in the lineup, we paddled hard, and when the wave hit the reef we were in the right spot,” says International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre, who’s been an outspoken advocate for getting surfing into the Games. “A lot of people say, ‘Ah, you’re lucky the wave is jacking up right in front of you!’ Ha, that’s wishful thinking. We’ve been paddling for 22 years to get here.”
The Olympic surfing movement has been a long, hard-fought effort that can be traced back to Duke Kahanamoku, who after winning gold medals in swimming in 1920 speculated that someday surfing would be an Olympic sport. Finding inspiration in Duke’s comments, when Aguerre took the helm of the ISA in 1994 he made it his mission to get surfing into the Olympics. In 2011 surfing was a finalist for the Games, but ultimately didn’t make the cut. In 2014, under the direction of a new president, the I.O.C. made sweeping reforms to its charter. Most importantly they lifted the cap for the number of sports from 28 to allow new sports. The 2020 Tokyo Games were given more flexibility to add new sports and were keen to bring more youth and energy into a program that had grown stale.
“It means opportunity for all of us,” says Mr Aguerre. “We are a group of committed, healthy people that go to the ocean to surf and deserve the same respect as any football, basketball or baseball player.”
The final competitive format for the Games has yet to be determined, but at this point what is known is that 20 men and 20 women will represent their respective countries in pursuit of gold and glory. Best of all, they’ll be doing it in the ocean. At this point, all involved parties see much more value in sending the surfers out in real waves, as opposed to faking it in a wave pool.
“For surfing it means more visibility at a national and international level,” says Fernando. “It means access to funding—Olympic funding, private and public funding. For example, now the U.S.O.C. can begin funding high-performance surfing. That would never have happened before.”
“Everybody benefits. Athletes will have the benefit of being able to use their leverage as Olympic athletes. There are more business opportunities. And eventually this leads to better man-made waves, where people that do not have the luxury or the luck to live near the ocean can still enjoy surfing. Of course, a man-made wave is never going to be like the ocean, but if you can’t have the steak, maybe you can have a good burger,” he continues.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Olympic surfing movement has been that it will lead to further overcrowding and an influx of beginners at surf spots that are already operating under max capacity. Fernando counters that is a myopic perspective.
“A lot of the people reading this live in highly populated surfing areas, and they will argue that we’re making surfing more popular. Yes, we are making surfing more popular,” he states. “They’re talking about five percent of the population in the world. In the rest of the world there are a lot of empty beaches. There are a lot of young kids growing up in front of the ocean that don’t even know how to swim, let alone how to ride a wave and enjoy that free playground. Surfing has opened the ocean to Iranian girls and boys in the last couple of years, and that can happen all over the world. There is a lot of good that surfing can do.”
The ISA, Fernando and their supporters—which includes Paul Speaker and the WSL, as well as a large number of industry heavies—see surfing as a way to bring the world together. As countries such as Costa Rica and Italy start producing more talent like Carlos Muniz and Leo Fioravanti, who can go toe-to-toe with athletes from traditional powerhouses Australia, the U.S. and Brazil, the tapestry of Olympic surfers becomes emblematic of a world united.
“More than anything, I want to see surfers from Europe, Africa, Asia, Central and South America—white, black, brown, yellow, everyone—all right there with the Aussies and Americans. Surfing is an inclusive sport, not exclusive. We will show the world that in 2020,” Fernando says.