Opinion: Olympics Needs Wavepool

Even if Japan looks like this in 2020, we still need a wavepool. Photo: Brent Bielmann

I don’t give a damn about surfing’s “soul”.

I mean, what even is our soul? No longer are we a homogeneous counter-culture based around a rhetoric of freedom and “sticking it to The Man.” The term “surfers” could easily be substituted with “people”, because that’s all we are: a small sample size of (almost) every demographic group found across the world, all of us with different beliefs and intentions, who just so happen to partake in the same hobby. So when someone says that the Olympics will make surfing lose its soul – well I think that’s as stupid as not handing it to Marshawn Lynch on the 1-yard line

But that’s not to say I think surfing in the Olympics is an all-around great idea. I don’t. Because their current game plan has one inherent flaw: the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will feature surfing… in the ocean. Let me explain why this is an issue.

The Olympics are, for very many sports, the absolute pinnacle of competition. Athletes in particular events train their whole lives for a shot to compete and win gold. Swimming, running, and wrestling are a few that come to mind. For other sports, however, the Olympics are merely an entertaining side-show, a competitive reprieve from their full-time focus and occupations. Sure, these athletes still want to win, but they don’t partake in four years of extensive training for this very event. Basketball, golf, and I believe surfing, would all fall into this category.

Because let’s face it, the WSL world title will always be the surfers’ main focus, and for good reason. First of all, the 2020 Olympics will feature only 20 male and 20 female surfers. When you take into account how many countries reside on a surfable coastline, you’ll realize that a lot of surfing nations will be denied a spot. Next, the IOC has two real options when it comes to selecting its participants: they can either select certain countries and give them a particular number of slots to fill, or they can run some sort of worldwide qualifier event. If they choose to select certain countries, and let’s say they go for 10 countries with two surfers apiece, we’d end up losing a lot of the world’s best. Who would come from the U.S.? John John and _____. From Brazil? Gabby and Adriano? What about Filipe? Alternatively, if they held a worldwide qualifier, they run the risk of only having 3-4 countries involved in the Olympics. Either way, we’re looking at a seriously flawed system.

So what does this have to do with holding the event in the ocean? Everything.

You can’t just pick 20 guys, make them surf at a Japanese beach break, and declare one of them the best surfer in the world… for the next four years. Even if the waves are pumping, it would still mean nothing. The reason the CT has such a variety of waves and 11 separate events is because competitive surfing is about maintaining proficiency in all aspects of the sport. And doing well in one contest doesn’t mean a damn thing – just ask Stu Kennedy.

Almost all of this could be rectified with the use of a wavepool. By changing the playing field, you’re essentially changing the game itself. Whoever wins the event wouldn’t be the “best surfer in the world”, they’d be the “best wavepool surfer in the world”. Not to mention, the idea of a static and consistent environment is completely in line with the rest of the Olympic events, including recent addition skateboarding and longtime inclusion snowboarding. Plus, assuming the IOC declared in advance which wavepool technology they would be using, countries from all around the world could invest in training facilities so that surfers could master the wave, thus giving them the best chance to perform at a high level. This would also rectify the surfer selection process for the Olympics, as each country could hold preliminary trials in the wavepool, thus creating the fairest possible environment for all of the nation’s surfers to earn a chance to compete. Granted with only 20 slots per gender, we’re always going to lose some of the world’s best surfers and many of our surfing nations, but that’s another issue entirely.

The Japanese Olympic Committee and the IOC came to the decision that Olympic surfing, at least in 2020, should take place in the ocean. They cited reasons of “legacy and sustainability”, basically meaning that once the Olympics were over, Japan would be left with a super-expensive, somewhat useless science pond. But on top of the fact that holding an ocean-based competition is a weird precedent to set — considering that many future Olympic Games will be held in landlocked regions — how the hell do they explain this?