Senior Editor
Duke wanted surfing in the Olympics. Do you dare go against the Duke's wisdom? Photo: NY Times/Associated Press

Duke wanted surfing in the Olympics. Do you dare go against the Duke’s wisdom? Photo: NY Times/Associated Press

The Inertia

Duke Kahanamoku is thought of as the father of modern surfing. And guess what? He desperately wanted surfing to be included in the Olympic Games. “BUT SURFING CAN’T BE IN THE OLYMPICS!” you scream, spraying little bits of mucous-covered nachos on your computer screen. “ANY REAL SOUL SURFER KNOWS THAT!”

It’s not just you, either. A very large portion of the surfing community has a bone to pick with surfing’s inclusion into the Games.  “Thought I was done being pissed off over the 100-year mainstreaming of this wonderful sport,” Matt Warshaw told Surfer Magazine a few years ago. “Thought I was old enough, and far away enough from Orange County, to not much care. But the thought of surfing in the Olympics brings a familiar dab of bile to my throat. Can we just all agree to pretend, for a little while longer, that surfing is a unique thing to do? That this difference has in fact always been its strength?”

I, of course, have an opinion also because, like they say, “opinions are like assholes, and you’re an asshole.” Or something. My opinion is this: who gives a shit? Not me, that’s for sure! Surfing in the Olympics won’t increase crowds. Surfing in the Olympics won’t take the soul out of it. Surfing in the Olympics won’t work, but it won’t change anything. Maybe wave pools will (read this! PLEASE, read this!), but surfing won’t. You want to espouse the life-changing art of surfing with platitudes of loving encouragement and inclusion? You want to be all soulful and arch your back on your mid-length single fin? You want to spout off about how surfing isn’t a sport, it’s a lifestyle? Do that. It’s fine. But you can’t go around touting how wonderful The Duke was (and he very surely was) without remembering that he wanted surfing in the Olympics, and he wanted it in there badly. In fact, it was he who expressed to the International Olympic Committee during the 1912 Olympic Summer Games in Stockholm, Sweden that surfing belongs in the Olympic Games.

I have a theory, though, about why surfing’s godfather wanted surfing in the Olympics so much. In short, he was a much better human being than the rest of us. The Duke loved surfing. He loved people. The Duke wanted people to be happy, and surfing makes people happy. He wanted to spread surfing far and wide because he genuinely wanted to make as many people happy as possible. A purveyor of stoke of the finest degree, he was. Then we, with our grumpy, sour faces and entitled attitudes show up and moan about crowds. To be sure, the crowds now are mostly made up of grumpy, sour faces and entitled attitudes, but imagine if what Duke Kahanamoku imagined was the reality? Thousands of happy surfers, bobbing around next to each other, smiling and laughing and generally not being assholes. Imagine if comment boards on surfing websites weren’t full of old assholes whining about anything and everything! Wouldn’t that be amazing? Some sort of nearly-unimaginable surfing utopia!

Surfing is no longer what it was when Duke surfed. “You know, there are so many waves coming in all the time, you don’t have to worry about that,” he said back in the mid-60s. “Take your time—wave come. Let the other guys go; catch another one.” Sure, there are glimmers of that here and there, but for the most part, surfing is a strange, hostile environment where newcomers are shunned, waves are precious and not to be shared, and fun is only fun if you’re doing it with a straight face and a chip on your shoulder.

If you claim to love and revere Duke, then prove it. Be nice. Let people have waves. Oh, and you have to be ok with surfing in the Olympics.


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