1. This was Duke’s vision.
Five-time Olympic medalist in swimming and ambassador of aloha Duke Kahanamoku is perhaps solely responsible for the wide-spread popularity of modern surfing. And way back in the early 1900s, Duke expressed his desire for waveriding to be included in the Games. On Wednesday, the 129th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Rio de Janeiro confirmed the decision that surfing will be included in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan — over 100 years since Duke’s original request.
2. It’s on a real beach, not in a wave pool.
The ocean is a fickle beast. And that’s partially why it’s taken the IOC so long to include surfing in the Olympics — some host countries might not even have an ocean, let alone contestable waves. So when 11-time World Champ Kelly Slater introduced his state-of-the-art wave pool earlier this year, talks of Olympic surfing bubbled back to the surface. But, alas, Mother Nature always has the final say. And Shidashita Beach in Chiba, Japan will be the place.
3. There’s a limited field.
Surfing (along with new additions skateboarding, climbing, karate and baseball) and its saltwatery inclusion is partly due to the IOC’s movement towards spotlighting “youth culture” type sports (such as snowboarding in 1998). IOC President Thomas Bach said, “We want to take sport to the youth. With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them.” And, although the qualification criteria and event format haven’t been finalized yet, we do know only 20 men and 20 women will be allowed to participate. Sorry, Russia!
4. It was a long time coming for the ISA.
The International Surfing Association (ISA) — the IOC-recognized governing body for surfing — and its president Fernando Aguerre have been feverishly pushing this very dream for over two decades. Each year, the ISA holds the World Surfing Games and World Junior Surfing Championships in a team-based format where each country’s best surfers complete under their flag for medals and national pride in Olympic-Style fashion, complete with a parade of nations. Aguerre and the ISA have also been steadily increasing their member nation count to gain IOC notoriety. And now with the ISA standing 86 countries strong, their goal has finally been accomplished.
5. USA and Hawaii will unite.
A strange anomaly in competitive sports exists in the fact that Hawaiian surfers are listed separately from their mainland counterparts. Example: John John Florence, HAW vs. Kelly Slater, USA. A bit confusing, to be sure, but this has been going on for decades, mainly to observe the Islands’ cultural and historical contributions to the sport. Think the IOC cares about that? Nope. So expect an American “super team” in 2020 which will likely square off in serious battles with the Aussies and Brazilians.
6. Surfing is now, ahem, mainstream.
As if it wasn’t widespread enough, the once “outcast” culture is now being throw in front of the world-wide masses. McDonalds! Coca-Cola! Surfing! But does that really even mean anything? We’re going to witness 40 of the world’s best scrapping it out at some random Japanese spot in (likely) very small beachbreak conditions. As longtime surf scribe Nick Carroll pointed out in his recent op-ed on Surfline, “It’s a one-off, once-in-four-year event. Whoever wins, they won’t be tested the way the World Tour tests people.” Still, you can bet more eyeballs than normal will be mesmerized by these athletes “walking on water” as surfing gets its day in the sun just four short years from now.