In year 1912 Duke Kuhanomoku approached the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the Stockholm Games with the dream of getting surfing into the Olympics. Over a century later that dream has come true. On August 3, 2016, at the 129th IOC Session in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the IOC voted to include surfing in the Olympic program. Carrying forward the Duke’s mission, the International Surfing Association (ISA) has led the charge towards surfing’s inclusion in the Olympic Games, spearheaded by ISA President, Fernando Aguerre. Decades of lobbying, coupled with the expansion of surfing’s global reach, the sport’s youth appeal, and, most importantly, the technology to create perfect waves out of the ocean, have all come together to make Olympic Surfing possible.
There has been a lot of conversation about whether Olympic Surfing will take place in the ocean or at man-made surfing venues. As of September, 2015, the Tokyo 2020 organizers indicated that surfing’s debut into the Games will take place in a natural ocean setting, with Chiba as the selected region. However, as technology continues to advance at an exponential rate, the organizers may be tempted to reconsider adding an artificial wave to their Olympic build out. Whether Tokyo 2020 winds up including artificial waves is to be determined, but one thing is certain, the Olympic movement will have to incorporate man-made surfing venues in the future for the following reasons…
One of the major funding mechanisms for the IOC is securing host nation contracts. The IOC typically selects host nations for upcoming Olympic Games seven years prior to the Games. The IOC accepts bids from potential host nations and, like any good business, the more parties interested in hosting the event the better. many factors are taken into consideration when the IOC selects a host nation, but the IOC needs to keep their options open. They cannot limit their pool of potential host nations to countries that have accessible coastline, world-class waves, and a swell window that coincides with the Summer Olympic Games. Although surfing in the Tokyo 2020 games is currently planned for the ocean, the clear recommendation for nations bidding to host future Olympic Games is to include a viable surf park model in the plans for development, which should not be a tough sell considering the cost of developing a surf park (approx. $15-20 million) is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of developing your average Olympic Soccer stadium ( approx. $700 million).
The Olympic Agenda 2020 is the IOC’s road map and strategic plan beyond Tokyo 2020 and there is huge emphasis on sustainability, transparency, and leaving a legacy. The addition of a surf park to an Olympic build out allows the IOC to leave a viable business in the host city, unlike many of the other Olympic build outs, which can often turn into Olympic ghost towns when the Games leave town.
The Olympic Agenda 2020 stresses that the IOC will, “ensure post Games monitoring of the Games legacy with the support of the National Olympic Committees and external organizations.” Additionally, the document states that, “Sustainability and Legacy (are) to be further positioned as an executive priority.” The ability to introduce a relatively low cost investment for use during the Games that can also be monetized after the Games is very appealing to the IOC and host nations alike.
Another major revenue stream for the IOC is selling the television and media rights to the Olympic Games. The 2012 Olympic Games in London where broadcast by NBC, who paid a reported 1.2 Billion for the American broadcast rights to the games. Surf contests, as we know them today, make a game of cricket look short. With that said, what makes the experience of ocean surfing so unique is that so many variables have to come together to intercept a high quality wave on its way towards shore, but the effort is worth the reward. however, predicting these variables for the purposes of competition is no easy feat and, furthermore, high quality surf only comes when there is decent swell activity, can be effected by other variables like tide and wind, and usually only lasts a few days. The ability to control the surf variables is a game changer for the surf competition format. What we will likely see is a transition to an event that more closely resembles an Olympic Snowboarding, event than a traditional ocean surfing competition, with a few waves to create your highest score. All competitors will be surfing identical waves, which takes wave selection out of the judging criteria and eliminates the waiting between waves, making a surf competition much easier to package for TV. The concept of setting aside a window of dates for an event which could start at any time, otherwise known as a “holding period,” is foreign to most other sports, as it is much easier for broadcasting companies to obtain maximum viewership with a set starting date and time.
Surf Parks will forever change the ways that fans will be able to experience surfing. The days of staring through binoculars to catch a fuzzy glimpse of your favorite surfer are over. Stadium seating, jumbo-trons with instant replay, sky boxes with gourmet tapas and craft beer on tap, and live music are just a few of the amenities that will complement the live viewing experience for surf spectators everywhere. The IOC and host nations need to monetize ticket sales as well, which is hard to do when a surfing competition takes place at a public beach. Surf parks can provide a stadium or amphitheater approach to monetizing the audience and curating their experience surfing.
Broadcasting a surfing competition is no easy production. To deliver compelling footage involves a large media budget, specialized technology for live streaming from the beach and in the water, and a highly experienced team of watermen to capture the right moments from the right angles. Surf parks are virtually aquatic film studios and offer the opportunity to effortlessly document every wave from a variety of angles, while being able to control the surf conditions, adjust the lighting, and get as creative as imaginable. With the IOC’s emphasis on ramping up youth engagement, Surf parks have all the elements needed to produce stimulating media and capture the short attention spans of today’s generation.
I once was scolded by a nine-year-old girl for saying, “practice makes perfect.” She quickly corrected me and stood her ground, “practice makes better.” either way, whether you get better or you get perfect, surf parks will help. A surf park gives a surfer the ability to practice the same maneuver on the same wave over and over again, committing body mechanics to muscle memory. Additionally, it has been proven that this muscle memory translates directly to ocean surfing. Undoubtedly, any surfer with their sites on the Olympic Games will need to train at a surf park to hold their own against other Olympic hopefuls. In other sports, Olympic athletes have access to high performance training centers and Olympic Surfing will be no different. To date, the Hurley High Performance Center on the Gold Coast of Australia is viewed as a best practice for athletes serious about surfing development. Although the center is located directly in front of the Super bank, home to some of the best right hand point breaks in the world, it could be argued that the center is incomplete without a man-mad wave, because even the Super bank does not break perfectly all year round. Surf parks foster high performance development and will be essential in the creation of future world champions and Olympic medalists. It is well known that the best way to develop champions is to develop youth programming. National Surfing Federations across the globe know this and will have the unique challenge of convincing their National Olympic Committees and ministries of Sport to set aside funds for the development of youth surfing programs and will potentially be vying for high performance centers with man- made waves.
The Olympic rings logo is one of the most iconic logos in the world. Surf parks can help bring surfing to parts of the world with no coastline and this will help the IOC and the International Surfing Association (ISA) maintain the continued growth of surfing’s global participation. The concept of, “if you build it, they will come” is alive and well in regards to surf parks; historically we have seen that where surf parks get built, surf culture follows. These new surf communities, equipped with waves and culture, drive the growth of the sport and could potentially produce the next Kelly Slater.
With the sport of surfing now officially recognized as an Olympic sport there has been a lot of discussion about Tokyo 2020. However, there has not been a lot of chatter about the significance that getting the nod from the IOC has on surfing’s inclusion in other huge international multi-sport games, beyond the Olympics.
Other multi-sport events have dabbled with surfing in the past, like the 2008 Asian Beach Games in Bali, Indonesia and the 2011 Pacific Games in New Caledonia. However, most large multi-sport events in the Olympic family typically look to the Olympics for guidance on which sports are eligible to include. Once the concept of Olympic Surfing started to gain traction, the invites to other games, where surfing was previously excluded, began to trickle in. Surfing will now be included in the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru and also the first ever World Beach Games, slated for 2019 in San Diego, California. The opportunities for athletes to represent their nations at a plethora of international multi-sport events will further create the demand for more man-made waves.