You have made Olympic inclusion a personal pursuit for many years, but also an institutional priority for the ISA – on the verge of your presentation to Tokyo 2020, how are you feeling about your chances?
We feel good and the timing seems right for Surfing. We’re also cautious and realistic but we definitely have a sense of optimism ahead of our important presentation to Tokyo 2020. In the spirit of Agenda 2020, Tokyo has made it clear that they are looking for a sport, or sports, that help them engage youth, but also attract new audiences. They also want to make a statement with sports that align with their vision of the most innovative Games in history. We feel confident that Surfing offers them the opportunity to accomplish all those goals and more.
When I was first elected President of the ISA in 1994 and started to push for Olympic recognition and inclusion, most people just wrote me off as crazy. That wouldn’t be the first time in my professional life I’ve faced skeptics and resistance to change, but this is not about me. I set out to build a relationship with the Olympic Movement because I knew it was vitally important. I additionally wanted to show that Surfing could add enormous value to the Olympic Games, and that the sport would also derive great benefits.
At the same time, we respect and appreciate the seven other excellent sports applying for inclusion and understand that it will be a difficult decision for Tokyo and the IOC.
What do you think will set Surfing apart for Tokyo 2020?
Surfing definitely has a cool factor and that’s mainly because it’s more than a sport – it’s also a lifestyle. Young people want to be like surfers. They want to look and dress like surfers. And that will especially be the case in Japan.
We have about two million surfers and standup paddlers in Japan right now, and that number is growing, but there’s also a huge and growing surfing industry that last year generated nearly $800 million in sales. This shows that the sport transcends the competitive side and will attract new and different audiences to the Games, and ultimately to the Olympic Movement.
We also feel that Surfing will be able to generate massive mainstream and social media interest for Tokyo 2020 by attracting global coverage in music, fashion and entertainment as well as sports press. Our global community of young athletes and fans are highly tuned in to the digital age so we also offer Tokyo the opportunity to harness the power of online social platforms, and spread Tokyo 2020’s message via digital conversations.
Agenda 2020 reforms have changed the way that future Games will be delivered, with a lot more focus on sustainability and legacy. How do you see Surfing fitting in to the new model?
Surfing’s model for Tokyo 2020 is cost-effective, sustainable and innovative and this aligns perfectly with the principles of the Agenda 2020.
The state-of-the-art wave pool technology and new surf park concept we are proposing is based on a real business model that would have a clear and viable post-Games use.
In fact, this technology is about to revolutionize Surfing, opening up the sport to many more fans and participants in urban and rural areas and helping to create great local long-term social, recreational and economic benefits.
Given the simplicity of its design and modest construction, a fully functioning surf facility could be in place in central Tokyo in advance of 2020, creating a revenue centre even before the Games start. And because this is based on a sound business model, the park could be built with a combination of public and private funding so as to further reduce the costs for the Organising Committee.
Last weekend, one of the world’s most advanced Surfing lagoons was launched in Wales, UK – Surf Snowdonia. Just like the new technology at Surf Snowdonia, which is capable of delivering perfect waves every time, all the time, day or night, we now have the blueprint for inland Surfing venues that can be built almost anywhere in the world and be easily and affordably integrated into major multi-sport events as part of an urban Host City environment.
So, we’re pretty exited about how our vision and venue in Tokyo is in harmony with the principles of Agenda 2020.
How would a Surfing event at Tokyo 2020 look and feel? What would the athlete and fan experience be like?
Our idea is to create a cool, happening place where everyone wants to hang out and have fun, just like you would find at any other world-class Surfing competition on the beach.
In fact, we plan on recreating a beach atmosphere around the wave pool so fans and spectators can really feel part of the action.
The game-changing nature of the surf parks will completely overhaul how Surfing competitions are delivered and presented – making it fantastic for TV, live and online audiences.
In addition, if you think about the fact that we would be removing all uncertainty in the waves and creating a completely controlled and consistent field of play, this will also ensure our great athletes can perform at their very best, which is what an Olympic competition should be.
The new technology also allows for inland Surfing competitions to be hosted in a designated area chosen specifically by the Host City – in wonderful, iconic locations that are athlete and fan-friendly and can promote the Tokyo 2020 and Olympic brand around the world through fantastic broadcasting positions.
Surfing has long been at the forefront of broadcast innovation with the use of drones and wearable cameras and we’re sure this will add to the excitement in the venue, on TV and online.
Do you think that Surfing has sufficient appeal in Japan to engage audiences there?
With more than over 2 million people practicing various forms of Surfing and StandUp Paddle in Japan and many millions more enjoying the beach culture, the country has a thriving Surfing community.
Strong home performance always helps to increase fan engagement at the Olympic Games and Japanese Surfing success has improved significantly in recent years.
Just last weekend, 18 year old Hiroto Ohhara created global Surfing history by winning the Surfing US Open in California to become its first ever Japanese Champion in front of 30,000 cheering fans. This is the best competitive result by any Japanese surfer – an amazing achievement and a great boost to Surfing in Japan.
Female surfer Nao Omura finished 5th in the last two ISA World Championships and in 2013 the Under 18 Japan Junior Team won the ISA Aloha Cup World Championship, a mixed gender team event. This shows that the next generation of Japanese youngsters can compete with the very best in the world.
A strong Japanese team and world-class Surfing competition involving some of the best athletes in the world who can connect with youthful audiences will ensure sold-out venues full of local and international supporters at Tokyo 2020.
Content provided by the International Surfing Association