Surf and skate in the Olympics - all you need to know

19 Aug

It’s official, surfing and skateboarding, two sports that are close to our hearts, are in the Olympics. Here’s all you need to know about surfing and skateboarding for Tokyo 2020.




The Duke

Surfing in the Olympics is an idea that originates from the man behind surfing's popularity, Duke Kahanamoku. He was an Olympic gold medalist in 1920's swimming event and back then speculated that one day surfing would become an Olympic sport. Duke's ambitions were instilled in the International Surfing Association's mission when Fernando Aguerre grabbed hold of ISA presidency in 1994 (read more on Stab Mag).


That being said, both skateboarding and surfing have mostly been portrayed as rebellious sports that stemmed from anti-establishment cultures. As such, many surfers and skateboarders feel negatively about the news and believe this to be a profit-driven endeavour which does not align with the sports' respective cultures (read more on Transworld Business).

Why these sports

Surfing and skateboarding are part of 5 sport package which was approved all at once by the IOC. The package includes the likes of karate, sports climbing and baseball/softball, and was designed to provide the Olympics with a key focus on youth. See the official statement below.

The five sports — karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing and baseball/softball — offer a key focus on youth, which is at the heart of the Games vision for Tokyo 2020. They represent a combination of well-established and emerging sports with significant popularity in Japan and beyond. They include team sports and individual sports; indoor sports and outdoor sports; and ‘urban’ sports with a strong appeal to youth.



For skateboarding, there's a real concern about the preservation of its culture, and things seem into place already.

“I’ve always believed that if skateboarding was properly protected and supported, its appearance on the Olympic stage could change the world,” said Gary Ream, Tokyo 2020 Skateboarding Commission Chairman and ISF President. “We’re excited to have that opportunity in Tokyo thanks to the IOC’s Agenda 2020 and the creation of the Tokyo 2020 Skateboarding Commission.”

Professional skateboarder and ISF athlete representative, Neal Hendrix, said:

“I’m excited to be the athlete representative on the Tokyo 2020 Skateboarding Commission. It is really important to me that skateboarding culture is fairly represented and protected on this global stage, and I hope skateboarders worldwide will be proud of the show that the best male and female skateboarders in the world are going to put on in Tokyo in 2020” (read more on Transworld Business).



Wavepool or no wavepool?

Venue and format

Surfing has been confirmed will not take part in a wave pool, but at the Japanese spot of Chiba, which is about 45 minutes on the train from Tokyo. Surfing will have 20 men and 20 women compete from countries across the planet, meaning surfers who don’t surf on the World Surf League Championship Tour may well appear at the Olympics (read more on Boardsport Source).

Reactions from ISA President, Fernando Aguerre

“After decades of hard work and dedication we are absolutely thrilled that Surfing will officially join the Olympic Sports Program at Tokyo 2020. Our Olympic dream has now become a reality and on behalf of the entire Surfing family I would like to express our sincere thanks to the IOC and Tokyo 2020 for their pioneering vision in making this historic decision possible."

“This is a game-changing moment for Surfing. We are already seeing increased popularity of the sport across the world and the Olympic Games will provide an incredible platform to further showcase Surfing and its core values. With its unique and modern blend of sport performance, style and youth culture, Surfing will help deliver something special to the Games.”

“We are especially stoked for the athletes who now have their own dream to shoot for – to compete for their countries on the greatest sporting stage. We can’t wait to see the world’s best going head to head on the waves in Tokyo and millions of Surfing fans revelling in the competition and the fantastic festival atmosphere of the beach party."

“We know the hard work does not stop here. We look forward with great enthusiasm and energy to working in partnership with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 as we aim to make Surfing’s Olympic debut a resounding success” (read more on ISA Surf).

Reactions from the World Surf League

"This is a huge moment for professional surfing and further highlights surfing's rise as a global participatory and spectator sport. As home to the world's best surfing, the WSL looks forward to working with the ISA to ensure that the sport is showcased in the best possible manner and with the world's best athletes. It is awesome that our incredible athletes will have the opportunity to showcase their talents and skills to the global Olympic audience and compete for their countries."
Paul Speaker, CEO of the World Surf League.

"The WSL has worked tirelessly to provide all of its surfers with opportunities to develop as professional athletes and to expand global participation in the sport of surfing. We're excited by the IOC's decision and look forward to what it means for the future of professional surfing."
Kieren Perrow, Commissioner of the World Surf League (read more on World Surf League).

What does this mean for British surfing

Jobe by jason feast-web

Jobe Harriss at Boardmasters 2015. Photo Jason Feast.

It’s fair to say the “Olympification” of surfing has brought a full spectrum of reactions within the industry.

For the soul surfers among us, the thought of their beloved lifestyle being sucked into Olympic politics can be a little daunting. From an athlete/pro surfer’s point of view however, the prospect of representing your country at the highest level of competitive sports is the ultimate golden opportunity and has therefore been welcomed fairly warmly.

One thing’s sure is that this is a great opportunity for the smaller surfing nations, like the UK, as every participating country will have an equal number of competitors, as opposed to the AUS/BRA/US heavy climate that is the World Qualifying Series.

Another positive aspect of surfing being an Olympic sport comes in the form of funding opportunities. With Surfing GB and the English Surfing Federation becoming one and coming ever closer to being an officially recognised NGB (national governing body), there are big hopes for government funding which would help support and grow high performance surfing among our British youth.

You never know, this combined with the only commercial wavegarden in the world and we may even end up with the first ever British surfing world champ! Here's what our Animal pro surfers had to say. 

STOKESY by jason feast

Photo Jason Feast

Alan Stokes

"Amazing news for the sport especially the sport here in England with Surfing GB and the English Surfing Federation merging it means we can finally push for proper funding and the Olympic news will only help push this forward. From a personal stand point  I'm super excited to compete on an Olympic stage it's an unbelievable opertunity, ive already started to focus my training to achive this. Bring it on!"

JF157315 .Jason Feast

Photo Jason Feast

Jobe Harriss

"I think the inclusion of surfing in the Olympics is such a massive game changer for the sport. If everything plays out well, we'll hopefully receive a big push in government funding which will do wonders for the sport in the UK. At the moment everything is self funded and if an aspiring, young, talented surfer can't afford trips, contests or British Team training, they merely get shrugged off and the next in line gets put in their place. It's so wrong and means the sport is currently elitist.”

“With government funding, we may finally get a professional attitude towards surfers from mainstream media and organisations as well as hopefully attract sponsorship deals from banks, car manufacturers and other such large companies. This will push the sport and raise the standard of British surfing to at least being able to compete at a mid-high international level. I'm sure we won't start to reap the rewards of surfing in the Olympics for a few years to come and won't see the progression of British surfing for even longer, but if the right developmental programs and funding get put in place and we have good heads steering the ship, we may well see some British surfers standing on the podium in a few Olympics' time."

Tokyo 2020, then what

fernando aguerre

Fernando Aguerre, ISA president, opens up on what the future holds for Olympic surfing.

"You know, for the 2024 games, the frontrunners are LA and Paris. There are naturally occurring good waves in France and there are good waves in California. So, they might decide they don’t need a wave pool. But who knows? You know, between Kelly Slater, and Wave Garden, and some others that might come, in a couple years, we may three or four really good waves, you know, manmade waves, where actually the ISA or the WSL run one of their events, and suddenly we say, “Wow, great.”

"We’re not scoring your lack of getting bigger waves we’re scoring your performance on waves. So it will change how the competition will be held, and we may be able to have a little additional objectivity in certain criteria. So, we’re completely open to that. And so is the IOC" (read more on The Inertia).

Last words

Courtesy of Surfing GB and English Surfing Federation

“The task at hand now, to those administering this development, is to ensure a future for our sport that embraces the diverse culture of surfing; by balancing the Olympic dream against the purity of connecting with the ocean in its simplest form and riding the waves we find” (read more on Surfing GB).

With all of this in mind, we're very much looking forward to seeing how Olympic surfing and skateboarding unfolds, and hope we can add a few riders to our Olympic portfolio!

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