The 2016 VISSLA Junior World Surfing Championships, currently taking place in the Azores, has provided the world with a first opportunity to take a look inside one of the five newly added sports to the Olympic program for Tokyo 2020 and, as it approaches its climax today, it has not disappointed.
The tournament, which began eight days ago, has proven that the decision taken by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board to include surfing was the correct one. As part of the Olympic Agenda 2020, IOC President Thomas Bach called for more sports that would “bring and engage the world’s youth” in the Olympic Movement and surfing perfectly fits that criteria.
“We want to take sport to the youth,” said Bach. “With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us, we have to go to them.
“Taken together, the five sports are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events that are popular in Japan and will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games.”
The President of the International Surfing Association (ISA), Fernando Aguerre, had been campaigning for surfing’s Olympic inclusion since he was elected in 1994.
Despite several unsuccessful attempts to push through the sport’s inclusion in the early stages of his mandate, he persisted and in 2014 the efforts were given a new breath of life under Bach. Two years later, having been recommended by Tokyo 2020 and supported by the IOC Executive Board, surfing was finally accepted at the 129th IOC Session in Rio de Janeiro along with baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding and sport climbing.
“As you know, the Olympic wave is a very elusive one and not easy to understand at times, but when it was confirmed it was a moment of joy and happiness,” Aguerre told insidethegames.
“It is the crowning of a lot of effort by many people but at the same time it is a new era and challenge. You only get one chance to make a first impression and it is now our mission to make sure the impression we give in Tokyo is the best we can deliver.”
The Opening Ceremony in the Azores over a week ago gave an early example of the carnival atmosphere we can expect surfing to bring to Japan’s capital. The mix of cultures and languages was evident with athletes travelling from 39 countries to compete. The sea of color during the Parade of Nations, as well as the wall of noise that was maintained throughout proceedings, displayed what surfing has to offer a younger audience that other Olympic sports cannot.
The athletes were led by a local percussion group who, when their performance began, forced me to duck in shock at the sheer volume which was more than loud enough to wake the sleepy, quaint, coastal village of Ribeira Grande.
A cacophony of noise bellowed through the streets as the vibrant and energetic side of surfing was exposed not only to the gathered crowds but the rest of the world online. The whole Ceremony and competition this week has been covered by an array of ISA staff, operating a variation of cameras which gave the event the feeling of a major competition.
“Surfing will bring youth and a fresh way of doing things from the way we plan to have our competition to the atmosphere there will be,” Aguerre added.
“It will be a two-week long beach and surfing festival which will include a lot of the other elements of the sport.
“Surfing is a sport but also a lifestyle, a culture and a relationship between the surfer and the environment.”
The true Olympic spirit is already visible in surfing and every person I encountered has a deep-rooted love for the sport. Whether it is the athletes standing on the beach all day, regardless of whether they are competing or not, to support their team-mates by waving flags and chanting national songs, or the contingent of volunteers heading into the ocean for their fix of the action during the occasional mid-afternoon breaks.
The coaches of different teams also all appear to know each other, exchanging greetings, handshakes and old stories.
The relatively low costs and use of natural resources is another positive for surfing’s Olympic inclusion.
Granted, those who live inland have a severely lower opportunity to take part than those living by the ocean, but the increasing amount of man-made wave-pools around the world and the extra exposure the sport is surely going to receive will offer a chance to those who cannot walk or quickly drive to the beach.
With surfing not set to make its Olympic debut until 2020, those competing in the Azores will be the most likely candidates to represent their countries when the sport makes its debut.
One surfer, Costa Rica’s Malakai Martinez, rightly pointed out that all the athletes taking to the Atlantic this week must have possibly becoming Olympians on their mind.
“It’s so fantastic to have surfing in the Olympic Games, to have a chance of being an Olympian,” he said.
“I just hope that I can be there in Tokyo and have the chance to compete for my country.
“I’m sure that everyone will be at the top of their game in Japan during the competitions [at the Olympics] because everyone wants to say they are a gold medallist.”
Those competing in today’s finals in the Azores will no doubt be focused on the task at hand but an Olympic gold medal is set to occupy their thoughts for the next four years.
Tokyo should brace itself for the inevitable party surfing will bring.
By Max Winters
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz