104 years after Olympic Swimming Gold Medallist Duke Kahanamoku first established the dream of making surfing an Olympic Sport, the IOC has finally added surfing to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, along with skateboarding, sport climbing, karate and baseball.
This is a big step for the IOC, who, under the charge of IOC President Thomas Bach, is seeking to rejuvenate the Olympics and widen the appeal to the youth market. It’s also a big step for surfing, and in particular the ISA and Fernando Aguerre who have been lobbying for this for over 20 years.
In Tokyo 2020, surfing will be hosted at Chiba beach, the venue of current WQS and previous WCT events. Tokyo 2020 considered wave pools, but at the time of the analysis, with Surf Snowdonia being the only commercial pool open, and having suffered some technological teething problems, the decision was made that it would run at Chiba beach. In addition, with Tokyo 2020 working to reduce costs, the additional work to find land (Tokyo is not know for its cheap real estate) and additional investment for the pool made a wave pool an unlikely choice.
The Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have viable natural options, as would LA 2024 should it be selected. Other potential hosts would struggle to find a venue (London, Beijing, Athens and Atlanta in the past 20 years, and Rome and Budapest who are bidding for 2024). Looking forward, a wave pool will be the only realistic solution to allowing any Olympic Host City to host Olympic Surfing.
A big question which always arises with Olympic development is the legacy. Many venues struggle to find use post-games, especially in relation to large stadiums and arenas for sports which do not attract large crowds outside of the games. We believe it is possible to design and build an Olympic venue for surfing, which not only has a continued legacy use for the population, but which can generate attractive returns for investors. This requires a careful understanding of location, the local market, and the way a park is designed and planned for that location and market to maximise footfall, dwell time and revenue generation for the park. By designing a plug-and-play Surf Park, an Olympic event, and indeed other events, can be set up within less than a day (and at low-cost), ready to host tens of thousands of fans to watch high quality surfing events, and enjoy an incredible all-round spectator experience. Well-designed, these venues can also generate significant revenues from events. This relies on deep experience in planning, designing, building and operating world class venues, for the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, but also private venues for sports and entertainment.
As surfing gradually makes its way into the Olympic Games, we hope it does so in a sustainable manner, that leaves a true long-term legacy for Olympic Host Cities, growing surfing and bringing stoke and enjoyment to as many people as possible.