Surfing: In the Olympics. Now, there’s a can of worms!
Last Monday the organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Games announced a shortlist of eight sports that they are considering from which they can select one or more to champion for inclusion in their games. Under recent reforms, at each Olympic Games the host city is now allowed to submit one or more sports to the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in order to attract spectators, boost TV ratings and secure sponsorship deals. The organizers of the Tokyo games have included surfing alongside baseball/softball, bowling, karate, sport climbing, roller sports, squash and wushu (a Chinese martial art). It’s not the first time that surfing has been proposed, with Duke Kahanamoku apparently having requested its inclusion as long ago as 1920, however the inability to guarantee contestable waves and the fact that many host cities have been landlocked or far from consistent waves has always been surfing’s stumbling point. But with recent progressions in artificial wave technology it is not inconceivable that, a century since Duke first suggested it, the prospect of winning a gold medal for surfing could become a reality. Fernando Aguerre, the president of the International Surfing Association, has been campaigning for years to see surfing sanctioned as an official Olympic sport and has claimed its inclusion on this shortlist “a milestone”. The ISA now have a little over three weeks to submit further details to the IOC followed by interviews in Tokyo in August. The final decision will be made in 2016. The ISA’s proposal will no doubt hinge on artificial wave technologies such as the Wavegarden now being able to produce quality overhead waves, with the soon to open Surf Snowdonia (the first Wavegarden that will be accessible to the general public, opening in the UK on August 1st 2015) acting as a strong case study.
Identical waves at regular intervals in a man-made pool or lagoon is not, of course, what the majority of surfers would call “true surfing” and so just as professional surfing and the WSL have their detractors from amongst surfing’s general population, there is no doubt that the clean-cut and highly sanitized competition of the Olympic Games will draw heavy criticism. The Olympic games does not really feature “Man vs. Nature” pursuits; there needs to be finish lines, goal posts or strict scoring criteria to allow competitors and countries to be measured against each other. Surfing in the Olympics will most likely take the controlled conditions provided by wave technology and follow the format of snowboarding half-pipe or gymnastics, with scored maneuvers and carefully planned “routines”. It’s not surfing as we know it, but it is still surfing. As the tree of surfing grows the branches get further apart, and plenty of people have every right to call this progress. And let’s face it, whatever your opinion on surfing’s potential inclusion as an Olympic sport most of us will probably tune in to watch if surfing gets the nod for 2020 – even if just out of curiosity.