SESSION I | Sunday 2 February 2020 | 09:30 - 10:30 | Santa Clara | Panel Discussion |
A number of outdoor sports have moved indoors and/or substituted the challenges imposed by nature with the man-made and the artificial. Representatives of the governing bodies for two such sports are on the panel looking back at evolutionary processes extending over decades and concluding only very recently – with both making it onto the program of the Tokyo 2020 and, most likely, the Paris 2024 Olympics.
That the International Surfing Association (ISA) has only been founded in 1964 makes it one of the younger world governing bodies recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). All the more surprising that in a survey conducted by the IOC Sports Department in 2011, ISA was able to report on 35 million surfers worldwide. As with many of the numbers provided in such a context, the caveat being how these "surfers" are defined by ISA: people surfing once or regularly, people owning a surfboard, etc.
Even if the figure should be inflated somewhat, fact is that the sport has experienced phenomenal growth, particularly over the past 20 years. From its Polynesian roots it had expanded to the beaches of California and from there to a select number of hot spots around the globe in the first half of the 20th century. In 1964, ISA had all of 5 founding members – Australia, France, Peru, South Africa and USA – and membership stood at a modest 32 back in 1995. 24 years later, on the eve of surfing's Olympic premiere, it has grown to 106 national members on all continents, a few of them representing landlocked countries.
The development of different wave pool technologies in the recent past has influenced surfing's explosive growth more than anything else. Surfing is no longer exclusively an Ocean sport, heavily dependent on meteorological and other conditions. With an ever growing number of wave pools almost everywhere, the sport becomes more accessible. Man-made waves allow everybody to learn and to improve surfing skills in a predictable and controlled environment.
Even though a wave pool was long considered for the surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Shidashita Beach has finally been assigned as venue. Whether that was the right decision remains to be seen, depending on the "prevalent conditions" for the four-day competition that is scheduled during an eight-day window in July/August next year.
The decision to use artificial wave machines on the professional surfing circuit has divided opinion. While controversial, this technology could give the niche sport greater mainstream appeal.