Surfing in the Olympics; Is It Really Surfing?

Posted by James Marshall on

Hey There Surf Spectator,

It’s now official – surfing has hit the mainstream. If you need more proof, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced that surfing has been shortlisted for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The final decision on whether or not our favourite surfers will be able to represent their countries at this prestigious event will be made at the Rio De Janeiro games in 2016.

This isn’t a new argument; in 1920, Duke Kahanamoku (regarded as the father of modern surfing and Olympic swimming gold medalist in 1912 and 1920) asked the IOC to include surfing. Now, as the governing body of surfing, The International Surfing Association has taken it upon itself to fulfill Duke’s dream and has been lobbying the IOC, and it appears to be paying off.

But is this a good thing? Lets have a look at the cases for and against (as I see it).

The Yes Camp

Surfers are professional athletes who train as hard as the best of them – they deserve a chance to compete, and represent their country, in the biggest global arena there is – the Olympic Games. Have you watched the Red Bull 21 days series with Mick & Parko getting into shape? How about all the rehabilitation photos of Jordy in phsyio from his recent injuries? These are top tier athletes that dedicate their lives to the pursuit of being the best, just as much as sprinters, gymnasts and swimmers.

On a slightly more cynical note, some people are after visibility, and sadly, money. I understand that without money and sponsorship a lot of what we like about surfing wouldn’t be here. But in the internet age, having Olympic status is not the only way to get exposure; the WSL have proven this with their live coverage of contests and associated sponsorship deals to captive audiences.

The ‘Good’ No Camp

I would argue that these guys are against competitive surfing more than the inclusion into the Olympics specifically. There are some incredibly talented free surfers out there who don’t compete (think Craig Anderson or Jamie O’Brien) or those who sometimes do, but competitions are not their forte like Dane Reynolds or Clay Marzo. Will the Olympics really showcase the best surfing has to offer if these guys aren’t there? I would say not.  

Surfing can also be thought of as synnonymus with everything apart from business and competition; its about being in the ocean, enjoying the serenity, with or without friends and being in tune with mother earth. Some would argue that surfing is about escaping modern life, hustle and bustle and 'the man' (corporations like McDonalds) who are involved in the Olympic world.

The ‘Bad’ No Camp

For these guys, surfing getting into the Olympics is another nail in the coffin of the crowd free days of yester year. While the ‘yes’ camp see more exposure as good thing, these guys see it as all bad because of the uncontrollable tidal wave (pun intended) of beginners on foamies who will swarm beaches the world over. One can only imagine this is because of the hordes of people who have never heard of surfing, but now they have seen it in a chlorine pool, will insist on getting into the ocean’s waves…Perhaps this is a bit far fetched.

Where do I fall in all of this?

Personally, I am not a fan of surfing in the Olympics, but the reason is not mentioned above. I do not like it because it will almost certainly be in the controlled environment of a wave pool. Regardless of whether it is the Wavepool in Dubai, the Ocean Dome in Tokyo, or even the Wavegarden (personally, I would also choose to surf the Tokyo Ocean Dome) the point is that nature, unpredicatability and arguably experience is removed from the equation which is a bad thing in my opinion.

In general I do like competitions, just see my rant about the WSL competition in Fiji this year. If Hawaii or Bali were to host the Olympics and surfing was included, I would be the first to cheer it on. Just imagine the opening ceremony at sunset on the Uluwatu peninsula...

In my eyes, a key element of what makes surfing so great is nature; the unpredictability of every wave, no two waves being the same, the experience of reading and understanding the ocean and its patterns…If surfing is an Olympic sport all of this needs to be reflected too.

But then how can I deny the Duke?...

What do you think?

Thanks – talk soon,



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