Duke Kahanamoku
Duke Kahanamoku

Surfing is coming to the Olympics in 2020.

But the seed of the idea of surfing as an Olympic sport was planted, apparently, in 1912 by the Johnny Appleseed of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku.

According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), the swimming legend who won three golds and two silvers across three Olympics and 13 years, Kahanamoku “first presented his dream at the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, where he expressed his wish to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to see Surfing included in the Games.”

Fernando Aguerre

In fact, this little historical footnote was the inspiration for the current head of the ISA, president, Fernando Aquerre. The surfer from Argentina was newly elected to the ISA in 1994, and according to Olympic.org, he had a dream to get surfing into the Olympics. In fact, Aguerre met Juan Antonio Samaranch, in 1995, part of his pitch was to give the then 75-year-old president of the IOC a surfing lesson in his office.

Unfortunately for Aguerre, what was true in 1912 was also true in 1995 – the IOC was not ready to hang ten.

“We had paddled out but there were no waves,” Aguerre said (in reference to his meeting with the IOC). “We kind of figured out that waves were going to come at some point but we didn’t really know when they were going to come because they were out of our control.”

Still president of the ISA, and still hanging on to his dream, Aguerre opened up his options by connecting with Thomas Bach in 2013, who was a candidate to become the head of the IOC. And by this time, Aguerre was more able to lay out a vision for why surfing needed to be in the Olympics – the need to attract youth to the movement with the rise of action sports. Bach, who was elected to head the IOC that year, made the attraction and retention of youth to the Olympic Games part of his platform.

Surfing has grown significantly in popularity over the recent decades. There were only 32 member countries of the ISA in 1995, but now there 100. So when surfing was submitted to the IOC in September 2015 as a part of a shortlist of new events for Tokyo 2020, primarily driven by youth-oriented action sports like skateboarding and sport climbing, surfing finally caught a wave. In August, 2016, the IOC voted surfing into the Olympics.

Come July 2020, if you want to watch the first Olympians set Olympic records with every top score in surfing, then plan to bake on the hot sands of Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan. That is where the surfing world, Barney and pro alike, will gather.

Surfing Hokusai waves olympic rings

Advertisements
What surfing in the Olympics could look like, for better or worse. Photo: WebberWavePools.com
What surfing in the Olympics could look like, for better or worse. Photo: WebberWavePools.com

Surfing in the Olympics? It’s been selected by the Tokyo Olympic powers that be. But why is it even being considered? Technology.

The challenges up till now for holding surfing competitions in the Olympics is how to ensure a level playing field for all surfers. After all, waves with the same or similar difficulty levels don’t come when you want them to in the big blue ocean. And what do you do if the venue for the summer games is land-locked?

Technology appears to be the wave that surfing enthusiasts in support of making it an Olympic sport are betting on. Now wavepools are becoming so sophisticated that specific heights and shapes of waves can be created and repeated consistently so that wave patterns can be replicated for competition.

According to Fernando Aquerre, President of the International Surfing Association, surfing wasn’t initially selected as an Olympic sport in 2011 because of the lack of proper wave-making technologies. “But now the proper wave technology or world-class or Olympic surfing competitions is available,” he wrote in this article.

Apparently it’s still open as to whether a competition in 2020 in Tokyo would be in a wave pool or in the ocean. But the debate is on as to which is more appropriate. Here are a few point/counterpoint from Surfermag:

Surfing should be an Olympic Sport for sure. It would be hard to have the event when the hosting city is land locked, but with the way technology is going it seems we will be able to bring world class waves and surfing anywhere. – Taylor Knox, Veteran World Tour Surfer

No, no and err…no. Olympic sports are all anchored around fairness and level playing fields, but the ocean doesn’t offer that. The only way surfing would ever be considered an Olympic sport is if it was held in wave pools, and if it was held in wave pools then I wouldn’t consider it surfing. The fact that no two waves are ever the same is what makes surfing, surfing. It’s not designed to be fair. The ocean isn’t fair, and unless you’re Kelly the ocean really doesn’t give a shit about you. – Sean Doherty, Surfer Senior Writer

Yes, I think surfing should be included, and I would absolutely love to surf in the Olympics. It would be such a great honor to represent my country. Plus, it would be a sick competition with the Brazilians teaming together against the other counties. And of course we would win. Haha! Hopefully it will happen. – Gabriel Medina, World Champ

…the thought of surfing in the Olympics brings a familiar dab of bile to my throat. Can we just all agree to pretend, for a little while longer, that surfing is a unique thing to do? That this difference has in fact always been its strength? – Matt Warshaw, Surfer Historian

What is it like to surf in a wave pool? Take a look!