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Breaking: The Olympics Will (Most Likely) Be Held In A Wavepool

And everything else we know about Tokyo 2020.

// Nov 4, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Hello. I am Edward Snowden. Just kidding, but I do have a piping hot rumor in my hands, and it has nothing to do with Wade Carmichael. Two sources with entirely separate stories have led me to believe that surfing in the 2020 Olympics will be held in a wavepool. Let me explain.

According to my first source — an industry gent that recently visited Japan — the WSL has been scouting land in the Tokyo region with hopes of finding a suitable place for a wavepool. Considering the WSL’s recent acquisition of Kelly Slater Wave Co., one could assume they’re looking to build a Lemoore-style pool in Japan.

It’s true that Slater recently announced plans for a consumer-based pool in Palm Beach, FL, which gives the WSL plausible deniability in regards to Olympic ties. They could, theoretically, be looking to build a wave in Japan solely for commercial use. That is until you hear about the second source…

Source two is someone who recently visited the KS pool in Lemoore. While there, the source was chatting with one of the pool’s lead engineers, who let slip something along the lines of, “One of our major clients wants us to improve certain aspects of the pool, most notably the duration between clean waves, in order to prepare for a major competition.” When pressed on whether or not that client, and the competition, were connected to the 2020 Olympics, the engineer replied, “Well, I can’t technically say anything, but I think you can put the pieces together…”

The Cove looks incredibly fun, but it’s not quite “Olympic”.

In order to confirm these rumors, I reached out to Fernando Aguerre, International Surfing Association (ISA) President and surfing’s official spokesperson for the 2020 Olympics. Perhaps smelling something fishy, Fernando refused my (second, see the Olympics details breakdown below) request for an interview and instead asked for written questions.

In my experience, written interviews lead to nothing but well-scripted bullshit. If I wanted any genuine information from Fernando, I knew I’d have to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so I momentarily declined his offer.

Then one week later, out of fucking nowhere, I found the ISA President having a nap under my team’s tent at an NSSA collegiate event. While I was helping coach the UCSD Surf Team, Fernando was there supporting his son — a talented longboarder from a rival college. Between heats, the Pres thought it’d be a good idea to take a snooze in our tent’s shade, which in retrospect might not have been his best idea. Wearing a Cheeto-orange shirt and pair of zebra-print sunnies, Fernando stuck out like a freckle on a butt.


I wasn’t kidding. Photo: @blarrel

“Are you… Fernando?” I asked, as he rose from his slumber. “Jes, jes,” he replied with an Argentinian twang. I then introduced myself as Mike from Stab, the guy he didn’t particularly want to do another interview with.

“Ah, jes,” he replied. “All the available information about the Olympics is on our site, so I didn’t see the point in a conversation.”

“No worries! I actually have a slightly different topic to discuss though — wavepools.”

“What about them?”

“Well, I have a source who says the WSL is scouting for wavepool-friendly land in Tok–.”

“The WSL can do whatever it wants,” Fernando interrupted. “But until they make the pool, it doesn’t mean nothing.”

“But do you know if the International Olympic Committe (IOC) wants to use a wavepool for the event?”

“The current, official decision is that the Olympics will take place in the ocean,” Fernando confirmed. “But the IOC and Japan can change their minds if they want to.”

Fernando went on to explain how he is, and has always been, a major proponent of wavepools in regards to Olympic surfing. He believes that artificial waves are the ideal future of our sport.

Screen Shot 2017 11 03 at 5.48.31 PM

Let’s play a game of Would You Rather: coastal Japan (above) or slightly inland Japan (i.e. Slater’s wavepool) for the Olympics? Photo: WSL/T.OMI

With all of this information in hand, I emailed the WSL a few days ago to see if they would confirm or deny the rumors, or more directly, confirm or deny that surfing at the Tokyo Olympics will take place in a Kelly Slater wavepool.

No reply. Not a word. Nothing. 

And doesn’t nothing, in this case, tell you just about everything? Even without official confirmation, I’d bet my bottom Benny that we see a freshwater surfing event in Tokyo 2020. And that makes me fucking ecstatic.

Foreshadowing of the 2020 Olympics? God we hope.

Now aside from the wavepool talk, I spoke with Fernando a couple months ago to understand certain details about the Olympics. I didn’t feel I’d gained enough vital information to publish that story, but now that we’re here I figure why not share what I learned:

There will be 20 male and 20 female surfers total. Not a lot, but not too few.

The countries included in this event have not yet been decided. The ISA will send a proposal to the IOC in December 2017, and by February 2018 we should have a determination of which countries, and how many surfers from each country, will be included in The Games.

There will be no more than 3 surfers from any given country (per gender). The obvious conundrum here is, do you keep the contestant numbers for each country low, to include more surfing nations (while eliminating a number of the world’s best surfers), or do you focus on where the talent lies and give those countries more slots (thus eliminating a large portion of surfing nations)? Also, how do you weigh Olympic politics into the equation? Surfing-ability-wise, China shouldn’t get any of those twenty slots, but with all the time and money they’re investing into their surf program, along with their overall presence at the Olympics, it seems unlikely they won’t get at least one surfer in the draw.

Surfers in the event will be chosen in part by their WSL ranking, in part by ISA-related trials events (like the Pan-American games), and in part by coaches’ picks. This was pretty ambiguous, but I assume if John John was having a bad year on tour and didn’t make it to the ISA event, he’d still be chosen to surf for Team USA based on his abilities alone (and yes, Hawaii will be part of Team USA).

Bonus (not from Fernando): Surfers in the Olympics will not be allowed to have stickers on their boards. That’s an Olympics-wide rule that we assume will pertain to surfing as well.


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