DANA POINT, Calif. — The International Surfing Association (ISA), led by its president, Fernando Aguerre, hosted an informational gathering at the Ritz Carlton on Monday in Laguna Niguel, Calif. to discuss the business of getting surfing in the Olympic Games. The message was, “We’re closer than ever before.”
With a host of surf-centric VIPs, including former world champion Peter Townend, ISA gold medalist Jamie Mitchell, and a number of Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) members in attendance, it was Aguerre’s opportunity to spell out — and sell — the current strategy for getting wave-riding in the Games.
Aguerre, who is heavily involved in working with the International Olympic Committee, has made it his mission to get surfing included in the 2024 Summer Olympics. In his address Monday, he outlined key milestones, the first coming in 2015, when the IOC draws up a short list of possible sports to include. A decision will be announced in 2017.
Aguerre noted that surfing would be one of approximately 30 sports being considered for the 2024 Olympics, but there would be room for only one or two additions, depending on how many sports are dropped.
Articulating a multipronged strategy, Aguerre has brought on Bob Fasulo, formerly a key strategist for the U.S. Olympic Committee, as the ISA’s Olympic consultant. In his presentation, Fasulo illustrated the idea that with surfing, “it’s not about us.” As much as the surfing establishment likes to puff its chest and flaunt the glory of Duke Kahanamoku, nearly 100 years later, surfing’s inclusion in the Games is about “adding value.”
“Snowboarding has been a tremendous success for the Winter Olympics,” Aguerre said. “We feel that surfing could very much do the same thing for the Summer Games. We are that key demographic that they are looking for.”
The ISA currently has a roster of 77 member countries. Czech Republic, Hong Kong and Belgium have been added, it was announced earlier this month. And the ISA calendar of events continues to expand, including championships in bodyboarding, kneeboarding, stand-up paddling and longboarding, as well as their junior, open and masters contests.
With a global infrastructure more or less in place, the next hurdle is access to waves. Places such as Czech Republic are landlocked, so part of the mission is to find a way to expand the sport’s prevalence where nary a drop of salt water is to be found. And the solution, Aguerre says, is the Wavegarden.
“Not just any wave pool, that wave pool,” Aguerre said after the meeting. The Wavegarden experiment began in the backwaters of the Basque country a couple of years ago, and slowly, it has garnered more attention, including from men’s and women’s world tour surfers. There’s a new facility scheduled to open in Wales in 2015. It’s rumored to be capable of creating a perfect 6-foot, top-to-bottom wave every 60 seconds.
“And they have orders for at least 18 more waves in various locations around the world,” Aguerre said. “The Wavegarden is cost-effective, they’re energy-efficient, all you need is the space, and it’s a perfect wave. It’s something you can replicate anywhere in the world. It’s going to change surfing.”
Convinced that the sport’s Olympic future and the success of artificial waves go hand-in-hand, even the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association is putting its weight behind the endeavor.
“The Olympics would be the ultimate stage for surfing,” SIMA president Doug Palladini said in his address. “Collectively, we need to work together to make it happen.”
Ten years is a long time. John John Florence will be in his 30s, Kelly Slater will be in his 50s, and who knows what competitive surfing will look like. But if Aguerre and company get their way, there could be gold on the horizon.