Golden dreams – how surfing and climbing became Olympic sports

At London Surf we’re passionate about both surfing and climbing (did you know the plan for our site is to have a top-of-the-line climbing wall as well as awesome wave pool tech?) – so we’re stoked to see that both these sports will make their debuts at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

It has been a long old journey for surfing to make it to the top table of international sport. It was actually first suggested that medals be awarded for surfing at the Games in 1920, with Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaii’s three-time Olympic swimming gold medallist (and the man hailed as the father of modern surfing) putting the idea to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

Back then it was a non-starter, due in part to the lack of consistently surfable waves around the world, particularly near major cities that might potentially host the Games. Now though, 100 years after Duke made his first suggestion, a gold medal will be awarded in the sport of surfing for the first time.

A persistent campaign by Fernando Aguerre, head of the International Surfing Association, began in 1994 – and it is his efforts that have got us to the point we are finally at. We can’t wait to see the likes of John John Florence and even – it’s rumoured –Kelly Slater battling it out for the gold.

Organisers have confirmed the surfing events at Tokyo will take place in the ocean, rather than using wave pools, but we’re expecting to see the tech’s use in future games. Paris (and northern France generally) is not particularly known for its big boomers, after all!

Faster, higher, stronger

The inclusion of sport climbing at 2020 represents a big step forward for climbing, but also presents some problems. Some purists say that organising climbing into a rigid format removes some of the creativity and freedom from the discipline, while others are all  for it – like GB bouldering World Cup Champion, Shauna Coxsey:

"Sport climbing is like asking Usain Bolt to run a marathon and then do the hurdles.”

It’s true, that the way climbing will work at Tokyo is a little bit of a mish-mash, combining three distinct disciplines into a triathlon-style combined format – which favours all-rounders rather than the highly specialised athletes that tend to dominate a particular discipline. The three components are speed, lead and bouldering.

What we do know is that the focus of the Olympic events will be on speed, so we can expect lots of explosive action and thrilling televised competition. And while, yes, there are downsides to this format – it’s still incredible to see climbing included in the Olympic programme, with hopefully a deeper global appreciation and understanding of the sport as a result.

Does the UK have a chance to medal in either climbing or surf? Well we have a bouldering World Cup winner in Coxsey, as well as one of lead climbing’s brightest future stars in the shape of Will Bosi, who’ll be just 20 years old in 2020. 

In surfing, our prospects are less bright. Peony Knight, Luke Dillon and Jay Quinn are perhaps our best shots – but British surfing does not currently receive any UK sport funding, and as such they are finding it hard even to get to qualifying events for the Games. Earlier this year the team had to crowdfund their travel to an event in Japan. Still, with a couple of years to go, and Knight and Dillon just 20 and 23 respectively, there’s plenty of time yet for them to realise their Olympic dreams.

Next stop, Tokyo!


Tom Owen