Surfing at the Olympics

Gatlin and Gay from the U.S. and Bolt of Jamaica compete in the men's 100m final during the 15th IAAF World Championships at the National Stadium in Beijing

The Olympics: a strange and intoxicating mix of athletic excellence, corporate fuckery, hysterical flag-waving, sterile conformism, furious competition, exhilarating sporting drama, tacit drug use, mental fortitude, sexual overtones, and heroic feats of adversarial endeavour in the ancient Greek tradition.

Perhaps not all that far removed, then, from the present-day incarnation of competitive surfing, however incompatible the Olympic identity may be with the counter-cultural identity many of us still cling to. If surfing and the Olympics were to meet in Tokyo 2020, it would be -- to use a classical term that has since been appropriated by surf culture -- both epic and the very antithesis of epic.

It seems that such a meeting is becoming increasingly likely. Yesterday surfing took a major step towards Olympic sport status, as the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee announced it had approved surfing for inclusion at the 2020 Games.

Alongside surfing on the list of five sports put forward by the organisers were skateboarding, sports climbing, karate and baseball/softball, whose governing bodies submitted a joint bid. (Baseball has in fact been included at the Olympics on numerous occasions, but was voted out of London 2012 and will not be played in Rio either.) The committee's proposals are still subject to further approval by the International Olympic Committee, which will make its final decision in August of next year during the Rio Olympics.

Only two new sports were added for Rio 2016 -- golf and rugby sevens -- but for 2020 there seems to be a greater impetus to introduce new sports, following an IOC rule change allowing hosts of the Games to propose sports that are popular in their country. Of the eight sports initally shortlisted by the Organising Committee, squash, bowling and the Chinese martial art of wushu have been ruled out.

As for how the surfing event would look in Tokyo five years from now, the field would be comprised of twenty male and twenty female competitors, surfing on shortboards only.

The International Surfing Association's president Fernando Aguirre, who's been campaigning for years to get surfing into the Games, reacted thus:

“Tokyo 2020’s announcement is an extraordinary moment for our sport and for the global surfing community.

“Surfing has incredible and growing global appeal, particularly amongst young people, and we believe that the dynamic energy of the sport and its fan base around the world would bring many benefits for Tokyo 2020 and the Games.

“Surfing embodies a cool, playful lifestyle that would add a completely new element to the programme, helping the Games reach new fans through live action and stunning broadcast opportunities."

It also seems the ISA's bid had the backing of the World Surf League, perhaps the first time in history that surfing's two governing bodies have found themselves in agreement on an issue. Here's the statement from the WSL:

“We are pleased that surfing has been recommended for inclusion in the 2020 Games by the Tokyo Olympic Organizers," said Kieren Perrow, Commissioner of the World Surf League, the sport’s governing body. “Surfing’s international growth over the past few years, its loyal and enthusiastic fans combined with its globally-recognized athletes makes it an ideal sport to showcase on the Olympic stage. We’re excited to show billions of Olympic viewers the athleticism and artistry of these world-class surfers."