LONDON (Reuters) - Like a wave originating thousands of kilometers out in the deep ocean before crashing onto a distant beach, so surfing’s inclusion in the Olympic family has had a long fetch.
What began with a ripple of interest when Hawaiian surfing icon Duke Kahanamoku first advocated the sport’s Olympic inclusion, has become a reality with it debuting in Tokyo next year.
Inspired by Kahanamoku’s legacy, the International Surfing Association’s (ISA) charismatic president, Fernando Aguerre, has been the driving force behind the sport’s inclusion.
And the 62-year-old Argentine believes those International Olympic Committee (IOC) members who made the decision to open a once-locked door at the 2016 vote, following a failed attempt to win a spot at the Beijing Games in 2008, will not be disappointed.
Aguerre said surfing will ring “positive bells” for an Olympic movement trying to ride a wave of millennials with a vast appetite for cool lifestyle sports far removed from old staples such as weightlifting and fencing.
“It took a long, long time. But eventually things changed in the world and inside the Olympic movement,” Aguerre, who has been president since 1995, told Reuters from his La Jolla base.
“Many doors that were locked were opened allowing for a renewal of the Olympic program.
“You don’t want to be presiding over a movement that is bigger, but not healthy. It needs a more human scale.”
Skateboarding, often described as sidewalk surfing, also makes its debut in Tokyo, as does sport climbing — evidence of the IOC’s evolution, according to entrepreneur Aguerre who, with brother Santiago, founded the Reef beachwear brand in the 1980s.
“The IOC has been very clever,” he said. “It’s a great selection. It’s like the Olympic Games dinner table needed a good salad and the salad is made of action sports.
“We were in the right place at the right time. We were ready and waxed and preparing for the wave. When it came in we were there to paddle and ride it.”
But what exactly does a sport in which the vibe is as, if not more, important than winning, have to do with the old Olympic motto of “faster, higher, stronger”?
“I haven’t heard one top surfer saying any kind of bad comments about the Olympics,” Aguerre said.
“The vast majority look at the Olympics as a new wave. It doesn’t take anything away from the wave we surf every day on every beach.
“Of course competition adds a hard edge. But unlike sports like tennis or fencing, which are confrontational, with action sports like surfing it’s the other way around. They are activities first and foremost.
“And the ocean is free. No tickets, no tools, you can be the son of the janitor or the son of Bill Gates and it doesn’t matter. You can be black or white, fat or skinny, old or young, male or female, it doesn’t really matter in the ocean. That is not that common in today’s world.”
With recent Olympics, such as Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Sochi two years earlier, criticized for waste and white elephant venues, Tokyo 2020 organizers have vowed to make their Games green and sustainable.
The athletes’ village will be hydrogen-powered while 60 percent of the venues will utilize existing facilities.
So eco-friendly surfing, which needs just a beach and hopefully some waves, appears a perfect fit, especially since the competitions will take place on popular Tsurigasaki Beach, 40 miles from Tokyo, rather than in a man-made wave park which had originally been considered.
While a wave park would have guaranteed the schedule, Aguerre says that would have short-changed the fans.
“We decided that the beach was the best place,” Aguerre, who still rides his longboard every day in California, said.
“We have extra days if needed. The important thing is this is not just a surfing competition, this is the arrival of surfing in the Olympic family. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
“By having it on the beach it will be a festival to educate people into surfing, the environment, the threat to the ocean.
“There will be surf-based music, art, all the surfing DNA will be on display. We are ambassadors for the ocean.”
Gold medals will be at stake too but Aguerre says, in surfing, you can’t fail. “You’re just playing with waves.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis