Could this be in the not-too-distant feature?  Photo:

Could this be in the not-too-distant future? Photo:

With the Winter Olympics at Sochi having come to a successful close, there is euphoria within the global community. The group hug that is the closing ceremonies reiterates that, through sports and athletic competition, we are united. We are also reminded that with hope anything is possible, that we live in a world of dreams, and the Olympics are, for all involved, the realization of those dreams. Pretty lofty stuff.

At the same time, the Olympic Games are an entertainment vehicle, captivating billions of consumers. And where there are consumers with money to spend, there are marketers with products and services to promote. It’s not just insurance, sneakers and hamburger makers peddling their wares. It’s the Olympic organizers themselves. They are promoting athletic events that need to be relevant and compelling. Would you believe tug of war, croquet, motor boating and rope climbing were all former Olympic sports or events? For those that care, swimming is an Olympic sport whereas 100 meter butterfly is an event.

Now it’s the youth market Olympic organizers are after. Given the meteoric rise in popularity of action sports, it makes perfect sense. Not surprisingly, the Winter Olympics is looking increasingly like ESPN’s Winter X Games. Ski and Snowboard Cross, Halfpipe, and Slopestyle went over big and are here to stay.

The Summer Olympics need to follow suit, and have already begun purging some under-performers. Gone are softball and baseball, while wrestling is on hiatus. Golf and Rugby are in. Like their Winter Games brethren, Summer Olympics organizers are surely considering adding action sport events. And, yes, surfing is surely a consideration.

Blasphemy, right? Surfing is more dependent on intangibles, namely wind, swell and tides, than any other Olympic sport. This is why we have two week swell windows and alternate surf breaks for surf contests. Secondly, you need an ocean to hold a surfing contest, and the Summer Games are seldom held in coastal cities, let alone coastal cities with good surf. These logistical issues are more than likely the reason why we don’t see surfing in the X Games or on the Dew Tour.

With the strides being made in wave pool innovation, however, Olympic surfing is, for the first time, possible. And that may actually not be a bad thing.

While still in its nascent stages, wave pool technology is evolving every year. There are many varieties, but they can generally be separated into two types: 1. standing waves like AWM’s SurfStream in New Hampshire, and 2. wave pools where water is pumped or pushed from behind the surfer like the Wave Garden in the Basque Country. While I may be simplifying or even misunderstanding the engineering, the point remains: there are a number of options with these and other types of wave pools, the technology is improving for them, and they are all gaining wider acceptance.

In addition to the improving wave pool technology, surfing has lots of other attributes that almost ensures its success at the Summer Games. First, it’s a sport pursued by people all over the world. The Volcom Pipe Pro in January, for example, featured surfers from seventeen different countries. Surfing already has a structured judging system in place that looks for and rewards tactical surfing like carves, barrel rides and airs. While the judging is far from perfect, the same can be said for any sport with subjective scoring. Third, surfing is more popular than ever, and has ties to lots of adjacent sports like body boarding, body surfing and even SUP’ing that the Olympic committee should also consider.

Don’t think for a minute today’s pro surfers wouldn’t want to compete in the Olympics. Look what happened when professional basketball players were allowed to compete in the 1992 Games. The “Dream Team” was an embarrassment of riches featuring Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and many, many more all-stars and hall-of-famers. As with these pros, the opportunity for surfers to win a gold medal for their home country is too inviting. Patriotism aside, surfing in the Olympics would also be a refreshing change of pace from the ASP grind and would serve as an impressive addition to their competitive resumes. Lastly, what fan of competitive surfing wouldn’t want to see Kelly or Mick or Jordy or Gabby waving their country’s flag and leading their fellow countrymen in the opening ceremonies?

For the purists and naysayers out there, you can find solace in the one critical caveat to this imminent reality: Olympic surfing would be similar to, but never the same as, the the real thing. Artificial waves aren’t ocean waves and dominance in the wave pool doesn’t translate to dominance in the ocean. Rick Kane will tell you that. Surfers shouldn’t feel threatened by some influx of wave pool surfers flooding our already overcrowded beaches to try their hand at the real deal. If they do feel compelled to leave their inland homes and heated wave pools, they will gasp in the soup, get snaked and struggle to figure everything out, just like the rest of us did when we first ventured out.

Olympic surfing will legitimize, on a global scale, something we are so passionate about. Because it’s different enough from ocean surfing, it won’t bastardize or cannibalize our purer form. As surfers and fans of surfing, we need to get on board with this. Surfing in the Olympics isn’t a matter of “if” but a matter of “when.”


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