August 19, 2015

Did Surfing Just Make it into the 2020 Olympics?

Third times a charm? ISA President Fernando Aguerre, Japan’s Masatoshi Ohno, and Wavegarden co-founder Fernando Odriozola celebrate with members of the IOC after the third and final IOC presentation.

It’s no secret that concentrated efforts to get surfing into the Olympics have been going on for decades. But after countless attempt to make surf a part of the Summer Games, did the team at the International Surfing Association finally get surfing into the 2020 Olympics?

No details have been given by the International Olympic Committee or the ISA yet. However, recent posts by Japan’s most celebrated pro surfer Masatoshi Ohno, and ISA President Fernando Aguerre appear to show the duo celebrating a win of some sorts at last week’s 128th IOC Session in Kuala Lampur. The text accompanying Ohno’s Facebook and Instagram post clearly states (in broken English) “Great Team amazing final day!!! Thank u Team. Bring it on! 2020 Tokyo Olympics☆”, while Aguerre’s tweet claims, “We just finished our presentation to Tokyo 2020. Thanks to a great team effort!!!” You’d have to wonder if they know something we don’t.

The two were invited to the session after surfing was included on the shortlist of new sports for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo in June. This is the final step in the approval process, and is the furthest surfing has gone on the road to Olympic acceptance. The team highlighted its case along with the President of the Nippon Surfing Association, Atsushi Sakai, and the director and co-founder of the Wavegarden, Fernando Odriozola.

The presentation neatly coincided with the grand opening of the Wavegarden surf park at Surf Snowdonia in Wales. Both the ISA and the IOC has stated their desire for a level playing field for surfing in the Olympics, and a man-made option has long been thought of as the answer. With the success of the first commercial Wavegarden facility at Surf Snowdonia last week the reality of an arena based surfing “playing field” could easily be imagined. The idea of which has been met with mixed reviews from the surfing community.

  • surfing-in-the-olympics
    A major factor in getting surfing into the Olympics will be a consistent playing field. Wavegarden technology is leading the forefront of man-made wave design and will play a vital role in the 2020 Olympics. The Wavegarden surf lagoon at Surf Snowdonia, Wales, UK.

Regardless of opinions, one can’t deny the youthful appeal of surfing and the fact that the IOC is desperately trying to connect with a younger audience as television ratings dip. For that reason alone, surfing has to be considered one of the front-runners out of the eight sports selected for final approval. That decision will be made at the 129th IOC Session in Rio in August 2016. Given the fact that Brazilian Gabriel Medina is the current WSL World Champion, and the current ratings leader Adriano de Souza is also Brazilian, you’d have to think that will also be helpful to the cause.

At the official press conference following the final presentation Aguerre was confident. “Through today’s presentation, we highlighted the universality of Surfing and its great appeal amongst young people,” he said. “‎Of the 35 million surfers in the world, we estimate 14 million are aged 12 to 24, a significant youth market for Tokyo 2020 and the Olympic Movement to engage with. In the spirit of Agenda 2020, we have also proposed event plan options for Tokyo that are sustainable, innovative and flexible – either on ocean waves or in a state-of-the-art surf park – that will also help create long-term social, recreational and economic benefits in Tokyo and Japan.”

“Innovation underpins everything our sport is about and Surfing’s young fan-base and cool, star athletes fully embrace the digital age. Our online social communities will spread Tokyo 2020’s message of ‘Connecting to Tomorrow’ via new media platforms and help the city deliver its vision to be the most innovative Games ever. We believe just as Nagano dramatically transformed the face of the Winter Games with the introduction of Snowboarding, so would Tokyo change Summer Games history with the introduction of Surfing – representing a landmark moment for the Olympic Movement.”

There are 96 countries recognized by the ISA that would be eligible to compete in the 2020 Olympics. Youthful appeal, a global audience, and new improvements in wave-making technology make surfing a sure bet for the games.

Ohno was equally stoked on the meeting and presentation. “It is every sportsperson’s dream to compete at the Olympic Games and it is no different for all the world’s top surfers. It would be fantastic to have Surfing debut at the Games in my home country where 2million people are involved in surfing activities. I believe Olympic Surfing would be an amazing experience for all the athletes and young fans and its fits perfectly with the aims and objectives of Tokyo 2020.”

Until the official judgement, competition surfing’s elite, the yea and naysayers in the surfing community, and Aguerre and Ohno will have to wait until Rio 2016. We’ll be counting the days for sure.


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