Will Adding Surfing To The Olympics Have The Same Result As Snowboarding?
The recipe to pull the surf industry out of the gutter.
Here's a thought: Despite not being the most core-pleasing act, could including surfing in the Olympics have the potential to unclog the arteries of the surf industry (not spiritually, but more in the realm of cashflow)? Maybe!
This year, the WSL, ISA and International Olympic Committee (IOC) have held a number of high-level meetings – and it’s looking very likely surfing will be implemented as an Olympic sport for 2020. Now that the WSL’s announced their acquisition Kelly Slater’s Wave Company, two powerhouses of the surf industry become one. Whether you’re a fan of Kelly’s wave or believe the tech will pollute the sport, there’s no denying the KSWC will shift the balance. The WSL and Kelly Slater are the two most notable names in surf, and together they have a tangible, sellable product, with a plan to implement these wavepools across the nation and globe: “I believe you’re going to see this wave technology in a number of places,” WSL CEO Paul Speaker told Today. “It’s a game changer for all of us.” Mr Speaker, during a meeting in April with the IOC, ISA, and a circle of industry big wigs on the Olympics, declared he’d “personally commit the best surfers to the 2020 Olympic games.”
Although there’s more eyes on surfing than ever, the surf industry’s in a rut. Big name brands are dumping high profile riders and cash flow is barren. Adding Kelly’s tech to the Olympics may just be the push the surf industry needs. With all things intact for surfing’s inclusion for the 2020 Olympics in Japan, Kelly’s wave is a reasonable playing field. A spectrum as vast as the Olympics will bring new fans. Actually, surfing (in this format – no lulls) is way more compelling than many other sports on the Olympic schedule. But wave quality must be up to scratch. “The conversation about an artificial wave supplementing what they need to run the Olympics is real to have,” Kelly told Today. “Whether this wave is it or not, I don’t know… but I hope that it is.”
If you believe surfing entering the Olympics goes against every expressive, counter-cultured nature that makes our recreation beautiful – you’re right. So what better way to bring surfing to the Olympics than in a way far removed from real surfing? Surfing a wavepool isn’t surfing, it’s just riding a wave. It takes away the sand, rocks, lulls, search and unpredictability – it strips back 90 percent of what it means to go for a surf. With which Kelly agrees: He’s repeatedly referred to his wave as a ‘supplement’ for surfing.
In 1998, snowboarding went through the same transition (coincidentally, its first inclusion as an Olympic sport was in Japan, where the 2020 games will be held). “At the time there was a huge backlash from snowboarding purists,” Jonas Lea, one of the owners of Airblaster, a snowboard company founded by Travis Parker, tells Stab. “At the time, the Olympic proposal seemed like a money and popularity move. A vast part of the culture said, fuck that. Terje Håkonsen, who’s comparable to Tom Curren, boycotted it. They took it from a style-focused, creative thing and brought it into the competitive, jock world of competition.”
“After the first Olympics, viewership increased,” Jonas continues. “People who’d never seen snowboarding thought it was awesome. I remember my parents, who were in their 60’s, being like: ‘Woah, you do that?’ The masses were able to understand the performance side of the sport. There was a definite surge in the industry that continued for about 10 years after it was introduced. I feel business kept growing but eventually people got bored with the performance factor and the people that were involved in that part of the sport.”
An injection of cash for the companies that make our wetsuits, boards and trunks, followed by a surge in alternative new brands? Surfing in the Olympics, held in a Kelly Slater Wave Pool, could just be the best thing ever for the surf industry, but do you care? As long as it doesn't result in cargo loads of soft tops at your local...