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.