Which sport should surfing mirror to reach maximum Olympic success? Ice prancing!
This week, while dipping in to the spectacle that is the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, I had an epiphany. Between back-to-back-fourteens, Luge moose-knuckles and Australian disappointment, my mind invariably wandered back to surfing; what will ‘Olympic Surfing’ even look like?
How will the world see our sport?
Personally, I maintain two simultaneous and opposing beliefs regarding surfing at the Olympics:
1. Surfers understand that surfing is more than the sum of its parts. Those post-NDA articles that flooded the surfing world on Feb. 1st were almost universally scrambling to point out that surfing is not merely a product that can be replicated in a man-made pool. Wavepools are a shit-ton of fun, but they aren’t ‘surfing’.
2. Most of us secretly want Olympic Surfing to do well. Not necessarily as well as the WSL aspires, with prime-time network spots and a growing inland fan base, but well enough to not make us look like complete fuckwits on the world stage. Modestly well. Face-savingly well.
So we’re stuck. The harsh reality of a flat waiting period during July in Japan means that Olympic surfing will almost definitely require a wavepool to succeed. For the purpose of this article, I’m buying the rumours and taking the pool as a given.
Maybe it would appease the core surf fans if we called wave pool surfing by another name? Skateboarding has street, ramp and freestyle living side-by-side within the shade of their cultural umbrella. Why can’t we have surfing, pool surfing and fucking-foil-boarders?
I looked to established Olympic sports to see what works; finding an effective format here, discovering a fair-but-subjective scoring system there, and building a Frankenstein’s Monster that could make Olympic Surfing palatable for the villagers and scientists alike.
The obvious starting point is snowboarding; it’s a board sport that has successfully become an Olympic staple. They use a subjective judging system with the highest and lowest scores dropped. They focus on areas such as difficulty, variety, progression and execution. They even have a refreshing honesty about their judging process:
There is no true universal consensus on “deductions” or how to determine an exact score. More than anything, scores are a means to an end – a way for judges to accurately position athletes on the leaderboard.
For example, the very first athlete to compete might sometimes receive what’s deemed to be a “low” score, relatively speaking. This is simply because judges, who have to evaluate the run they just witnessed against theoretical runs they think might occur later on, need to leave themselves cushioning to account for other competitors. (In other words, you will likely never see a rider score a perfect 100 unless they are the final athlete to take a run.)
The WSL could learn a thing or two about transparency from our snowboarding pals.
Unfortunately, snowboarding is almost entirely about what’s happening in the air, with little room in its judging criteria for the balance between surfing in and above the water. We need more nuance in our judging.
So, I cast the net wider. I looked at other judged Olympic sports and tried to find the set of criteria that best suited our sport. Then, when I was losing hope, an unlikely saviour arrived.
Taste this small sample and tell me we haven’t found our shining beacon of Olympic success:
Defined by overall cleanness and sureness, rail control and flow over the wave surface demonstrated by a command of the surfing vocabulary (barrels, airs, turns etc.), the clarity of technique and the use of effortless power to accelerate and vary speed.
In evaluating the Surfing Skills, the following must be considered:
•Use of deep barrels, big airs, critical turns;
•Balance, rhythmic action and precision of board placement;
•Flow and glide;
•Varied use of power, speed and acceleration;
•Use of multi directional surfing (lefts and rights);
•Use of progression.
And they continue:
The varied and purposeful use of intricate manoeuvres, body positions, and style that links all elements.
In evaluating the Transitions, the following must be considered:
•Continuity of movements from one element to another;
Sounds perfect, right?
And to which noble Olympic sport do we owe such complementary criteria? Diving? Synchronised swimming? Trampoline?
All I had to do was swap ‘skate’ for ‘surf’ and ‘blade’ for ‘board’ and voilà: I had the blueprint for Olympic surfing.
Figure Skating possesses a set of judging criteria so beautifully suited to pool surfing that you’d think it was scribed by Richie Porta Pritamo Ahrendt himself. More so, it celebrates a new opportunity that traditional surfing contests have overlooked for far too long, something that could launch Olympic surfing beyond the briny backwaters of coastal towns and into the hearts and malls of the American mid-west:
Interpretation of the Music / Timing
The personal, creative, and genuine translation of the rhythm, character and content of music to movement on water.
In evaluating the Interpretation of the Music (/Timing), the following must be considered:
•Movement and manoeuvres in time to the music (Timing);
•Expression of the music’s character / feeling and rhythm, when clearly identifiable;
•Use of finesse to reflect the details and nuances of the music;
• Surfers reflecting the character and rhythm of the music;
•Keeping a good balance between surfing to the beat and melody.
Music! Finesse! Routines!
If surfing in a wavepool for an Olympic medal doesn’t represent surfing, then it sure as hell needs to represent the Olympics. A consistent and reliable wave source allows for the type of planned routines that are otherwise impossible. And with that comes the opportunity for music, for routines, for costumes. For spectacle.
Just imagine the glorious vision of Filipe Toledo, sporting a decorative-yet-masculine lycra bodysuit as he waits for the pulsing drums of Motörhead’s Overkill to signal the start of his wave. He’d stroke his way into a flawless right-hander and run through a manic-yet-well-rehearsed wave dancing routine while fans lap up every delicious second from the bleachers. Filipe would deliver a genuine translation of the rhythm, character and content of music to movement on water. And Lemmy would, for one brief moment, return to us, resurrected through the violent poetry of Filipe’s surfing.
And Slater? Oh, he would defy both his age and retirement to produce a perfect physical duet to a live, side-of-pool performance from Eddy Vedder. Eddy’s music and lyrics would have been honed through hours of secret rehearsals alongside the King of the wavepool, providing such a seamless union between surfing and music that Jack Johnson would slit his wrists with puka shells in shame.
Medina could dirty things up to pumping UK grime beats on one wave, before showing the world his softer side with a smooth-as-armpit interpretation of Lembra on the next.
Would Jordy blast Darude’s Sandstorm while throwing down superman airs and new-school claims with abandon? Or would he fly stealth? It’s so hard to know until we see it.
Try the game yourself: What would Adriano have as his music? Which hat would Conner Coffin wear to accentuate his costume? Who could synchronise with the fastest bpm?
With Ice Dancing as our Olympic guide, the possibilities are endless.
Oh, and for the purists I have a new name by which my Frankenstein’s Monster can be differentiated from our original sport: wave dancing.