This is about as close as wrestling ever got to the beach for me. My brother and I training in the Outer Banks before freestyle nationals in the summer. It's 102 degrees out. The mat is about 130 degrees. If your skin touches the mat, it feels like hell.

This is about as close as wrestling ever got to the beach for me. My brother and I training in the Outer Banks before freestyle nationals in the summer. It’s 102 degrees out. The mat is about 130 degrees. If your skin touches the mat…just don’t let your skin touch the mat.


The Inertia

Last week, wrestling was dropped from the Olympics. Last week, North Korea tested nuclear weapons that set off seismic activity in the surrounding region. I am far more concerned about the former issue than the latter. Because the Olympics without wrestling is unthinkable. And by extension, it made me reconsider whether surfing deserves a place in Olympics. I’m not sure it does.

Before the concept of sport existed, humans had two instincts and necessities: fight or run. Those two instincts evolved into what we know today as recreational sporting competition; the marathon and wrestling were among the first Olympic events in Ancient Greece, and the thought of athletic competition in its most revered form (The Olympics) excluding the sport that spawned everything that came after is preposterous. And with the disappearance of wrestling’s Super Bowl, global participation and support on any serious level from universities and beyond will surely decline. I realize many of you do not care, but this deeply saddens me.

Let me give you some exposition as to why I care so much. Aside from my family, wrestling has played a larger role in my development than anything else. For a little over a decade, I held myself accountable for every tenth of a pound on my body. I once lost 19 pounds in five days. I’d eat a little less than 1,000 calories and work out up to five times a day. Lunch was two Ritz crackers with peanut butter. If I had time. That’s what I thought it took to win a national title, so I did it. And when I lost in the national finals as a teenager, I was humbled and disappointed, but I knew I did everything within my power to get there. To this day, I’ve never had a more educational, character-developing experience.

I’d also argue that wrestling is the most democratic sport in existence. You don’t need anything. No ball. No pads. No surfboard. Nothing. It doesn’t matter how tall you are. It’s absolutely non-discriminatory. (You can even cut weight to beat up on smaller people if you really want.) You need only the willingness to believe in yourself. A little aggression and high pain tolerance help too.

I went on to wrestle in college, and a lot of my friends from high school (Blair Academy, America’ s unofficial wrestling factory) were either in contention for Olympic gold medals or made that aspiration their life’s work. We enjoyed little fanfare, recognition, or prospects of compensation – far less than anything available in surfing, but it didn’t really matter. It was competition in its purest form.

Which makes me chuckle when I think of surfing as sport – in the Olympics.

Granted, as an advocate and believer in surfing’s potential to evolve into something recognized globally as transcendent and meaningful, I’ve heard (and even delivered) many arguments as to why surfing should be included on a stage as grand as the Olympics. But, last week, that changed. When the IOC decided to drop wrestling, it crystallized for me, that surfing lacks some requisite characteristics to be categorized wholly as a sport and shouldn’t earn a place in the Olympics – not as long as wrestling gets left by the wayside.

In many ways, wrestling inspired me to pursue a career in surfing, because unlike wrestling, surfing is EXCLUSIVELY fun. There is nothing to dislike about it. You go to the beach. You get tan. Your hair gets kinda blond. You’re around pretty, tan girls. You literally ride energy from the earth. You get barreled, which, on occasion, is better than sex.

Nothing about wrestling is better than sex. It’s all far worse. You’re starving. You’re pale. You’re cold. You wake up early in the morning to fight people. You suffer. But you learn. My God, do you learn!  About your limitations, your strengths and weaknesses. You learn about humility and the significance of working hard without expecting anything in return. The ascetic lifestyle can be sublime in its revelations.

Which is why, again, I kind of laugh when I think about the gripes of the professional surfing world. By comparison, it’s all cake. Granted, I don’t dismiss the dedication of elite professional surfers who take competition seriously.  And the ocean can deliver a more powerful beating than any jacked dude in spandex ever could. That’s for sure; so I respect that a person can work hard to achieve lofty goals in any context and learn from that process, but, in my view, there are far too many vain, self-indulgent pleasures associated with surfing for it to seriously consider itself a sport, much less lobby for a spot in the Olympic Games.

I could also list a string of logistical issues that make surfing’s presence in the Olympics challenging (ie: landlocked countries will have a hell of a time competing, the judging criteria still needs improvement, host cities will have to be near a handful of world-class surf spots – unless the artificial wave finally comes through. The list goes on.) But, for me, it boils down to the philosophical underpinnings of each activity. Surfing = indulgent fun. Wrestling = sanguine competition in its most basic form. I believe sport requires serious sacrifice. I find it hard to empathize with the sacrifice involved in surfing. Unless it’s hailing in sub-zero lineups with 50 knot winds daily, you’re going to the beach. It’s a vacation.

I realize this debate isn’t about surfing, and there’s certainly some transference of frustration going on with this argument. I’m just absolutely shocked that the Olympics would even consider stabbing itself in the heart by eliminating its cornerstone. And if I learned anything from the inordinate time I (and any other dedicated wrestler) spent in saunas, in plastics, on stationery bikes, in weight rooms, on runs, in gyms, and on mats, not eating, and not drinking water, it’s this: the match isn’t over yet.

Wrestling will be in the Olympics in 2020. Unlike the majority of people on earth, wrestlers are willing to do stupid, stupid things to make it happen.

As for surfing, well, good luck with that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eseelig1 Eric Seelig

    I also wrestled in High School. And I also read with dismay that wrestling was dropped by the IOC.It made me sick to my stomach, it was already hard enough to get kids to try a sport that depends on so much sacrifice, but teaches such good lessons.
    Wrestling is also such an important piece of Olympics history. I really hope that the IOC, is made mostly irrelevant by this decison and is made to reconsider.

  • http://twitter.com/ForCitySurfers For City Surfers

    I totally agree, wrestling shouldn’t have been dropped, but your point about surfing being ALL fun? Well, try surfing in the UK! Generally speaking, its grey skies, wetsuits in the summer and ice cream headaches 8 months of the year. Not to mention the 10 hour round trip from London to the waves, theres plenty about it that isn’t fun! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Shovsky Miklos Zoltan

    As another surfer/wrestler, I would agree that surfing is, by comparison, “indulgent fun.” But I’m not sure we should use wrestling as the standard for inclusion in an Olympics that awards gold medals for trampolining and whitewater kayaking–two activities that, for most people, would fall into the same frivolous category as surfing. When you think about it, swimming is also exclusively pleasurable for most of the world’s swimmers.

    I think removing wrestling from the Olympics is a surprising and devastating move. I’m also not so sure that surfing should be an Olympic sport. While it’s obviously difficult to relate the two activities, it was nice to read about them side by side–it’s not often we wrestler/surfers have an opportunity to do that.

  • Dexter Hough-Snee

    Spot on Zach. I wrestled against/with a number of wrestlers who surfed throughout high school and college and the asceticism of literally LIVING wrestling for nearly two decades certainly contributed to upholding surfing’s childhood ludic attraction for most of us as adults. Wrestling will be back by 2020, but FILA and the US IOC need to rectify some of their internal administrative issues in the meantime to ensure that we don’t fall on the chopping block so easily in the future.

  • Bert

    That’s funny…For a lot of sports, the olympics is the only time they will have huge coverage, once every four years, and wrestling is one of those sports.

    At the same time, you will have tennis, for instance, where the usual pro, the people you see everyday in a tournament somewhere, coming for one new tournament..;What’s the point?

    Or you will have the beach volley, which is there only to show girls in bikini! It’s funny to see that volley ball is already a sport, but it wasn’t enough (and not sexy enough for coca cola, I guess)…

    The olympics became a huge commercial enterprise, and nothing else. I’m sorry for those country trying to organize such games, because the people are gonna pay the price for “2 weeks of dreams…”…Since Montreal, cities aren’t able to pay back the huge investments they made to host the games…Ask Athens, Montreal, London…Ask how Brazil is doing to “revamp” Rio…

    PS: did you have to jump in the “nude Alana bandwagon”? I saw that sister Sage Erikson is more or less naked in this month eition of Stab, so you’ll show us pics next week?

  • nextstep99

    the ancient sport of wrestling as described by HG Nelson, just can’t understand why it’s no longer an Olympic sports…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMY3ULRbbAc