Surfing has been officially confirmed as an Olympic sport today, August 3, at a meeting of the international Olympic Committee. The 2020 Olympics will be held in Japan, in real waves, far from the dirty waters of Rio – hopefully at one of their perfect rivermouth breaks during the peak of a Typhoon swell.
Opinion is divided within the surfing community (when is it not?) about the merits of our sport's inclusion. We caught up with ISA President Fernando Aguerre, the co-founder of Reef, for this exclusive interview on the day he realised his Olympic dream.
Surfing is officially confirmed as an Olympic sport. Huge congratulations. You must feel a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction?
It has truly been an amazing journey for me and the countless people that came along the way supporting the cause. I almost feel as though I have spent my whole life working towards this moment. Most importantly, it was a huge milestone for our sport and for the global surfing family. We are thrilled to have realised the Olympic dream. We are stoked for the millions of surfers around the world who will be able to chase their own Olympic dreams.
To jump right in: what do you hope Olympic inclusion will do for surfing?
The extraordinary reach and influence of the Olympic Movement will have an immediate positive impact on surfing. Surfing’s increased visibility through the Olympic platform will allow us to reach millions of new surfers, especially in many non-traditional surfing countries. Surfing will bring its healthy lifestyle and core values to these countries, in addition to providing economic growth to developing nations through surf tourism.
And can you foresee an increased level of funding for surfing national bodies / training facilities now surfing is an Olympic sport?
The majority of Olympic sports around the world are funded on a national level by the Ministry of Sport and/or the National Olympic Committee. Now that we are officially part of the Olympic Program, there is a huge opportunity for surfing to benefit from this funding, almost immediately and in the lead up to Tokyo.
We gather the waves will be real and salty rather than artificial? Have you got any particular waves /areas in mind?
The IOC has confirmed that the surfing competition will take place on natural waves and we are very pleased with this decision. Japan has plenty of exposed coastline that receives quality waves. We are in the process of analysing the best options to choose the perfect venue location that will allow for the surfers to display their talent in quality waves.
I remember that you guys used our edit of the Wavegarden in Snowdonia in your Olympic pitch. You think it was this which put them off using an artificial wave?
The IOC’s and Tokyo’s decision not to consider artificial waves had nothing to do with the video we presented. In fact, they loved the video, which did a great job of conveying the innovative possibilities that wavepools create for the future of surfing. The fact is, wave pools have not been used for Olympic or world championships level competition until now and the IOC is simply not going to use a technology – no matter how innovative – where it has not been used at the highest level of the sport. We are all excited about the fast progression of this technology and what the future may hold and the IOC is fully aware and briefed on its potential so we will continue to monitor the technology going forward. For now, the surfing competition in Tokyo will be held in the same arena in which we have all grown to love the sport, the same one that has provided surfers with joy forever: the ocean.
We appreciate details are few at this point but will the Olympic surfing have a holding period? And have you considered the format?
As with any major surf contest on natural waves, there will be a holding period to ensure that the athletes compete in quality conditions to show the world the exciting appeal of our sport.
While the contest format is to be determined, the ISA has over 50 years of experience in this matter. We will consult with our team of technical experts, in order to choose the most adequate format considering the best interests of the sport and the surfers.
Obviously the ISA and the WSL have come to an agreement over working together to bring the surfers to the Olympics, which is great news for everyone. Can you let us know a little bit about the agreement?
First, I think it’s important to say that the work and effort that the ISA has invested over the past decade into the Olympic campaign has been for the good of all surfing worldwide and everyone stands to benefit as a result of this achievement. We are in regular dialogue with the WSL. They are fully supporting our efforts and this campaign, recognising that Olympic participation will add significant value to them. The ISA and the WSL have different, but complimentary roles in this process. It’s very important for us – as the world governing body recognised by the IOC and the entity that will continue to interface with the IOC on all facets of Olympic participation – that we can count on a solid and mutually respectful working relationship with the WSL. We are encouraged and optimistic that we can work together to make this a huge success for everyone.
How will selection work? How many surfers will each country be able to send? And will there be a qualifying mechanism or will world rankings be used?
As the International Federation recognised by the IOC, we are responsible for determining the qualification system, but this won’t really start to be considered until early next year. The IOC first establishes some broad criteria and principles we have to follow and then we work in partnership with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 – also in consultation with the WSL – to create a qualification system that best serves the sport and the surfers. Thanks to our excellent working relationship with the WSL, we will not only create a system that offers the world’s best surfers a chance to compete in Tokyo 2020, but also ensures geographical universality of participation from different continents and countries, which is a fundamental principle in the Olympic Movement.
How do you think it will work with surfing's anti establishment image? There has been a lot of noise about snowboarding becoming 'gymnastics on snow' since its inclusion. Do you think that perhaps keeping it in the ocean will keep surfing: surfing?
I have spoken personally with many of the top surfers in the world from varying cultural backgrounds and they all are super excited about the idea of representing their countries in the Olympics. Gabriel Medina, Johanne Defay, Ace Buchan, Filipe Toledo and Tatiana Weston-Webb, to name a few, have all expressed their support of Olympic surfing. I feel great about the support that we have received from the top athletes and international surf community as a whole.
There have been rumours of waves being destroyed to make way for the 2020 Olympic sailing venue. Have you heard anything about that? And would you lobby the IOC to perhaps rethink its plans - if it were proven to be true?
First of all it’s hard to talk about rumors. We have not heard anything like this, but of course we are a sport closely connected to the environment and the ocean, so we will be sure to work closely with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 to ensure proper environmental protocols are respected.
Congratulations again and is there anything else you would like to add?
This process has been an amazing opportunity for us to advocate and promote our sport, culture and lifestyle, in a world (Olympics) that may not have had a full understanding of the unique value and appeal that we could bring. Thanks to the new, forward thinking leadership of the IOC who have been promoting change and openness to innovation in the last few years, we have had this incredible opportunity to explain and illustrate our sport on the world’s great sporting stage. This is an extraordinary time of renewal and change in the Olympic Movement and we are fortunate to be in a position where there is now a better understanding of the value of surfing. We are convinced the surfing community has also understood that this is a great opportunity.