After several attempts to be accepted into the Olympic movement, in 2015 the sport of surfing was unanimously passed by all 90 members of the IOC to be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
For centuries the pinnacle of sporting competition has been the Olympics, but surfing’s inclusion didn’t go down well with everyone, with many pursuits believing surfing had no place as an Olympic sport, yet unlike recent newly inducted sports such as golf and tennis, many of the top profile athletes welcomed and embraced its acceptance acknowledging that they would be honoured to participate if they were selected. Even going back to mid last century, the god father of surfing as we know it and an Olympic Gold medallist swimmer himself, Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku had a dream and made a push for surfing to be included as an Olympic sport, almost 80 years on the Duke’s dream had become reality.
Since that announcement there have been many varied and twisted rumours of how the surfers will be selected and how the competition run in Tokyo. Many of the worlds super powers of surfing have embraced this Olympic chance and have implemented high performance Olympic Surfing programmes in aim of grabbing those illustrious Olympic medals.
So here’s what we know so far and where NZ sits in the puzzle: Qualification:
After much speculation it was announced on 20th December 2017, that the WSL and ISA (the IOC recognised federation) have come to an agreement on how qualification would commence.
In principle, the agreement will see up to 18 of the 40 places at the Games reserved for WSL Championship Tour (CT) surfers (10 men and eight women), then the remaining 22 will come from a mix between the ISA and the 2019 Pan-Am Games in Lima, and wildcards for the host nation.
It’s confusing, we know. To simplify, here’s how the qualification hierarchy will likely play out, pending approval by the International Olympic Committee (which is set for February 2018):
10 top-ranked surfers on the 2019 CT (season end 2019)
4 finalists from the 2019 World Surfing Games
4 finalists from the 2020 World Surfing Games
1 winner of the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima
1 slot reserved for Japan
8 top-ranked surfers on the 2019 CT (season end 2019)
5 finalists from the 2019 World Surfing Games
5 finalists from the 2020 World Surfing Games
1 winner of the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima
1 slot reserved for Japan
In total, that’s 20 men and 20 women. But here’s the catch: each country only gets two surfers per country, per division (eg: two Austalian men, and two Austalian women). Once those slots have been filled, the next available country on the qualification order will be chosen. What this means for NZ is to have a certain chance of qualifying a single position in each division male/female we basically need to finish ranked in the top 4 at either one of the ISA World Titles
in 2019/2020. Over the last ten years the highest position we have placed at the ISA Worlds was a 2nd by Paige and a 3rd and 4th by Ella, with Billy finishing with a 9th. So, while this process may seem daunting we have previously obtained results capable of qualifying. And with many of the superpower countries such as USA, Brazil, Australia and France all qualifying their spots via the Championship Tour then qualification could go as low as the top 10 at the ISA Champs.
Let’s lay down our dream scenario, if Paige was to qualify a spot via the World Tour and then also finish placed high enough to qualify a second spot via the ISA, that would open up two spots for any of our women surfers, although Paige individual qualified this place. Who those positions would then go to would be determined by a mix of Surfing NZ and the New Zealand Olympic Committee decision. The New Zealand Olympic Committee ultimately has final say, and even if NZ are to qualify spots, unless those surfers are seen to be medal hopes or have the potential to finish in a top position they may not select them. Many other sports are dealt this blow even after their athletes qualify, NZ has always had great success in windsurfing but the NZOC has denied selection in recent games as they felt those athletes weren’t ranked high enough to possibly medal.
With the lack of information from both the WSL and ISA, the NZOC were unable to give a clear statement as to if NZ qualifies whether we will indeed send athletes but did confirm that NZOC Selection Policy for Tokyo 2020 sets the selection standard for the Games and the standard for Tokyo 2020 individual athletes (which includes Surfers) is that they must be capable of a top 16 placing at the Games, with potential to place in the top 8.
In previous years the ISA Worlds have clashed with World Qualifying and Pro Junior Contests of importance therefore our top surfers haven’t been able to compete, so it is hoped the WSL have built this factor into their own calendar, allowing not only ours but other countries top surfers to compete.
On announcement of surfing being accepted into the Olympics it was announced that the competition would take place in the ocean and would be held at Shidashita Beach, or “Shida,” located about 40 miles outside of Tokyo in Chiba. The waves at Shida feature a punchy beachbreak, which occasionally barrels, and a series of jetties on the beach help funnel sand movement to create consistent sandbars. Leading up to the official surfing decision, the ISA consulted Surfline’s forecast team to select which location would be best fit for competition. Upon reviewing decades of data, Chief Meteorologist Mark Willis and his team settled upon Shida. Willis said: “We identified that average surf heights at Shida are in the thigh-waist-chest high range during the dates of interest”. The waiting period would take on the full 16 days of the Olympic schedule choosing the best two full days to run the competition.
Since that announcement, talk of where the event will be held has gone quiet! Upon reading the above quote of ‘surf in the range of thigh-chest high’ is hardly the type of surf that is going to become engaging to a non-surfing audience. Let’s face it, only a year ago wave pools were seen as a joke for competitive surfing and now we are about to have a World Tour event in one which at the push of a button can deliver waves on time in consistent intervals, the type that we have always dreamt of. This wave pool technology has come leaps and bounds in a very short period and in two years’ time who knows what they could produce, and at the end of the day wave pools are the perfect fit for Olympic broadcast scheduling. The one thing that has constantly held back surfing from global exposure is the inconsistent nature of our platform we perform on. Now imagine how much of a disaster it would be if the waves at Shida were at best inconsistent onshore 1 footers. Therefore, with this subject going quiet one could only assume that these potential rumours of a wave pool being built in Tokyo have some substance to them.
Our Kiwi Surfers:
As mentioned, if NZ are to qualify, we will qualify a spot not a certain surfer, therefore potentially a team of surfers who qualify by way of the ISA may not end up being selected. In the case that NZ qualify, Surfing NZ has current selection criteria which will be updated to encompass a specific Olympic selection criterion where they will nominate two surfers to the NZOC and they will ultimately determine if NZ should be included. For example, NZ has a great reputation in rowing, and while Mahe Drysdale, our most successful rower, is the guy that qualifies NZ for a spot in 2020, he may not necessarily be the rower who gets that spot. Rowing NZ, through their processes along with the NZOC, may in fact see another athlete as more suited to the competition.
It is pretty obvious when you look at the list of our most successful and talented surfers who may end up being in the mix but Tokyo is 2 1/2 years away and anything could happen between now and then which is why we need to focus on the development of a squad and not a single athlete.
Saffi Vette-Saffi is only young but she has already developed a single turn that can rival most of the best female surfers on the planet, once she develop sand starts putting combo s together we will start to see great things from this young lady, two...