Surfing in the Olympics

By Kim Schiffmann, in Surf · 11-12-2020 01:00:00 · 0 Comments

The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were supposed to mark the entry of surfing into the most established sports competition in the world.

Many surf fans were excited to see their favourite athletes in action on screens all around the globe since it was considered to be included in the 2020 Summer Olympics back in 2015. A year later, the unanimous vote of the Committee opened the doors for the worlds best surfers to come and show their sport to millions of spectators. Among the newly included sports were also baseball, softball, karate, skating and climbing.

Sadly, the long wait for the spectacle continues, since the event that was planned to start at the end of July 2020, was postponed to 2021 due to reasons we are all well aware of by now.
There were two options on where to make the surfers compete. Option one was the ocean, but option number two, a wave pool, was revolutionary and had many arguments going for it. A wave pool is, as you would expect, a pool in which special machines, built for this purpose, create an artificial wave. I am sure many of you know this concept from water parks, and while the idea is more or less the same, the surf version is more powerful and had to be able to create a different wave shape for it to be surfable.

Kelly Slater, known for being “The Greatest Surfer of All Time”, revealed his first prototype wave pool in 2015. The goal was to finally be able to surf the perfect wave, over and over, in the same spot without having to think about all the environmental factors that play into this sport.

Usually, when surfing in the ocean, you have to consider the swell direction and size, wind direction and speed, direction of the beach, the period, the tides and in most places you also have to think about whether the crowds are going to affect your session. All these factors are constantly changing, making it difficult to find the perfect wave. Luckily once you know how to read the surf forecast and know what numbers you are looking for, you can open up one of the many tools on the internet that tell you where and when the surf is good. Additionally some beaches also have a camera installed and you can look at your potential surf destination from the comfort of your own home.

Surfing a wave pool though, eliminates all of these factors. You can decide how big and fast you want your wave to be, and repeat the same wave as often as you want. They became a huge success and in 2016 the WSL (World Surf League) even acquired a majority stake in the Kelly Slater Wave Company. If you want to experience this first hand though, you have to reach deep into your pocket. To rent the Surf Ranch for one day will cost you about 50.000 US Dollars.

Luckily for us, there are other places out there that offer a similar experience for a more affordable price. I spoke to Julen Alegria, a surf instructor who used to work at NLand Surf Park, in Austin, Texas and I asked him what he believes the benefits of a wave pool are. “Imagine it like a skate park, like on a ramp. You can always work on the same trick in the same spot. In the ocean every wave is different and it takes a long time to practice one manoeuvre. I have a couple of friends that are city surfers, as I call them, they mainly surf in pools and don’t have much experience in the ocean. They have trouble with the timing and the position, two very important things to consider when you are trying to get a good wave, but when they are in the pool and surf there, they are very skilled.”

I wanted to know if he thought the Olympics should be held in a pool instead of the ocean, because it would give surfer the opportunity to show off their skills under the exact same conditions, like you would know it from almost any other sport. He said “In my opinion, I would not agree for it to be in a pool, it is a completely different type of surfing. You already know everything about the wave and surfing is also about being able to read the ocean and predict the waves.” This is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. “In the ocean you have to see each section of the wave and in a matter of seconds you have to already know what manoeuvre you are going for.”

The Olympics had a similar opinion and in 2018 they decided to hold the event at Shidashita beach, located just outside Tokyo. The event will have a waiting period of 16 days, which means that the contest can be held anytime in those 16 days, depending on when there are favourable conditions.
Although rumour has it though, that the Kelly Slater Wave Company is currently building a wave pool in Japan.

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