As if he’d just mastered a big wave, International Surfing Association president Fernando Aguerre was in Tokyo just prior to the Games rejoicing as his 20-plus year effort to make surfing a Summer Olympic sport has ended in triumph.
“It was a long battle, and not an easy one, but a good surfer never really gives up; you stay on the wave,” said Aguerre, who lives in La Jolla where the ISA has a mailing address. “You paddle. And when it gets hard, you paddle harder. I’m happy that we never gave up. Believe me, there were moments when I felt it was not going to happen. No way. There were so many hurdles.”
One of those major hurdles was convincing the International Olympic Committee, and parts of the globe not acquainted with the sport, that surfing deserved representation in the games as a world-class event.
“When I first started out, a lot of people didn’t know what surfing was, unlike coastal California where surfing is just like bicycling,” noted Aguerre, adding he saw a new opportunity in his quest to make surfing an Olympic event when the organizers expressed interest in exploring the possibility of adding new events. That, however, created a new problem – how to squeeze in at the Olympic table competing with other long-entrenched events.
“We didn’t know how difficult it was going to be to ‘get a place at the party’ with the IOC,” admitted Aguerre adding, “As far back as 1995, I went to Switzerland to meet with the IOC president.”
So how’s the surf shaping up in Japan for the COVID-delayed 2021 Olympics?
“We’ve got a typhoon and three low-pressure systems in the forecast for the region, so it’s looking like we’re going to have amazing waves,” answered Aguerre. “It’s going to be a blast.”
Aguerre noted the Olympic surfing competition will involve 20 men and 20 women competing over a three- to four-day period involving 18 countries from five continents. Surfing will take place in the ocean, and not in an artificial wave pool. The contest site for the Olympic Games is Shidashita Beach, or "Shida,” about 40 miles outside of Tokyo in Chiba.
“You can watch all of the Olympic surfing 24/7 on NBC’s website,” noted Aguerre.
“This is one of those things I thought would never happen, and now that it’s happened, I can’t believe it,” said Aguerre, a native Argentinian, who mentioned he intends to represent the world’s surf culture by “wearing my bow-tie, my blue blazer and a Hawaiian shirt. We’re doing this for the 50 million surfers around the world. This is changing the game.”
Aguerre paid homage to Duke Kahanamoku, who popularized the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing and dreamed of competing in the Olympics, but never was able to.
“I’m just following in the Duke’s footsteps,” said Aguerre. “It’s nice to be able to give back.”
To find out more about ISA and surfing in the Olympics, visit isasurf.org.
Hawaii natives John John Florence and Carissa Moore join Californians Kolohe Andino and Caroline Marks on the USA surfing team, having clinched their spots via their performance in the 2019 World Surf League.
Florence is one of only five surfers in men’s Championship Tour history to clinch his first two world titles in back-to-back fashion (2016-2017). The 28-year-old’s spot at the Games was put in jeopardy by a knee injury sustained at the Margaret River Pro in 2021, but after rehabilitation, he was declared fit for Tokyo.
Andino is a second-generation pro from San Clemente. His father Dino Andino was a former World Tour competitor and national champion in the early 1990s. The 27-year-old won a record nine NSSA national titles as an amateur and qualified for the Championship Tour in 2012 at the age of 18.
Moore is a four-time world champion from Honolulu. In 2019, Moore's total commitment to the sport saw her claim her fourth world title on home soil at Maui. The 28-year-old was a star student at Punahou High (the same school Barack Obama attended), where she met her future husband.
Marks was the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the women’s Championship Tour. She honed her surfing skills in Melbourne Beach, Fla., but in 2017 moved to San Clemente. The 19-year-old won the rookie of the year award in 2018, her first year on the Championship Tour.
The window for competition at the Tokyo Games runs July 25-Aug. 1. The surfing competition is broken up into multiple rounds consisting of timed heats. The preliminary round features four or five surfers per heat; the competition then turns to a head-to-head single elimination format. Heats typically last 30 minutes but can range from 20 to 35. Surfers take turns catching waves and trying to put together their best performances for judges. However, they are not allowed to ride more than 25 waves per heat.
HISTORY OF SURFING
The history of surfing refers back to the 4th century AD where Polynesians began to make their way to the Hawaiian Islands from Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands They brought many of their customs with them including playing in the surf on Paipo (belly) boards. It was in Hawaii that the art of standing and surfing upright on boards was invented.
Native Hawaiian Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku (Aug. 24, 1890 – Jan. 22, 1968) was a competitive swimmer who popularized the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing. He was born to a minor noble family. He was a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming, winning medals in 1912, 1920, and 1924.
Between Olympic competitions, and after retiring from the Olympics, Kahanamoku traveled internationally to give swimming exhibitions. He popularized the sport of surfing, previously known only in Hawaii, by incorporating surfing exhibitions into his touring exhibitions. He attracted people to surfing in mainland America first in 1912 while in Southern California.
While in Southern California, Kahanamoku performed in Hollywood as a background actor and a character actor in several films. He made connections there with people who could further publicize the sport of surfing.
In 1940, Kahanamoku married Nadine Alexander, who accompanied him when he traveled. He was the first person to be inducted into both the Swimming Hall of Fame and the Surfing Hall of Fame.
The Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championships in Hawaii, the first major professional surfing contest ever held in the huge surf on the North Shore of Oahu, was named in his honor. He is a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.