A Swell in Interest Ahead of the Olympics | Sports Destination Management

A Swell in Interest Ahead of the Olympics

May 01, 2024 | By: Jessi Miley-Dyer

Surfing was included in the Olympics in Tokyo and will also be included in the 2024 Games (this summer, those will be held in Paris, though the surfing will be contested in Tahiti) and in 2028 in Los Angeles.

Since surfing started appearing in the Olympics (spurred on by the IOC’s wish to attract a more youthful demographic to the viewership of the Games), there has been an uptick in the amount of attention the sport is getting – and by extension, in the amount of attention its athletes are receiving. In fact, the sport is experiencing almost stratospheric growth overall. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), surfing is the fastest-growing water sport on record.

Here to provide information about the sport is the World Surf League (WSL). WSL is the governing body for professional surfers and is dedicated to showcasing the world’s best talent in a variety of progressive formats. The following are some insights from WSL into not just the sport itself but the kind of things sports tourism is interested in, including site selection, sport growth and more.

Surfing as a Medal Sport in the 2024 and 2028 Olympics

We’re so thrilled to see surfing continue as an Olympic sport. This year is going to be incredibly special to witness surfing at Teahupo’o, Tahiti. Teahupo’o is a marquee venue on the WSL Championship Tour (CT), the highest level of competitive surfing, and it’s going to be a remarkable showcase of our sport and our athletes in a wave of consequence.

Disciplines of Surfing

Photo by Beatriz Ryder, courtesy of World Surf League
Photo by Beatriz Ryder, courtesy of World Surf League

The World Surf League features shortboard, longboard and big wave competitions. The WSL Championship Tour (CT) is the highest level of competition, where we crown our World Champions, such as Kelly Slater (USA), Carissa Moore (HAW), and Stephanie Gilmore (AUS). To compete on the Championship Tour, we have a development pathway that consists of three tiers:

Championship Tour (CT) - Where the world’s best surfers compete for the undisputed World Titles. This is the most elite level of competitive surfing, where a select group of men and women compete on the world’s best waves across a global tour.

Challenger Series - The Challenger Series is the tier that sits under the Championship Tour and is the main qualification route to join the Championship Tour. Surfers compete for a chance to advance to the top level by finishing atop the leaderboard by the end of the season.

Regional Qualifying Series (Africa, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, Hawaii, North America, and South America) - The on-ramp for surfers to pursue the pathway to professional surfing. This series of regional tours enables emerging surfers to develop closer to home without the expense and burden of global travel as they work to qualify for a place on the global Challenger Series.

WSL Longboard Tour: The WSL Longboard Tour is a four-event tour specific to the longboarding divisions for men and women. The Longboard Tour celebrates traditional lines of surfing with updated and progressive approaches and crowns the men’s and women’s Longboard World Champions each season. The WSL also hosts a series of regional longboard qualification competitions to determine the competitors on the Longboard Tour.

Big Wave Surfing: The WSL holds extended waiting periods for two Big Wave surfing competitions: a tow-in teams event in Nazaré, Portugal and a paddle-in competition at Pe’ahi, Maui. Both events are contingent on swell and weather conditions to run the event. The WSL is also the official verifier for big wave world records and runs the Big Wave Record Chase property where surfers can submit their waves for world record potential.

Global Surfing Powers

Right now, the most representation on the WSL Championship Tour is from Australia, Brazil and the United States (this includes Hawaii). At the same time, we are seeing new countries emerge, such as Japan, Indonesia and Morocco, and it’s very exciting to have this new representation on the Tour.

The Site Selection Process for WSL Events

There are a variety of factors we review when creating our Tour schedules. The most important criteria are the quality of the surf break and the playing field (which you could also refer to as a canvas) to provide for the world’s best surfers to showcase their skills.

We also evaluate when the best weather patterns would be for that specific venue and how that fits in with the broader tours and competition schedule. Our competition venues feature different types of surf breaks in order to challenge our competitors in a variety of different waves and conditions.

Factors in the Growing Awareness of Surfing

Photo by Tony Heff, courtesy of World Surf League
Photo by Tony Heff, courtesy of World Surf League

There are many factors that play into surfing’s awareness. As a former professional surfer, I’ve witnessed how surfing and professional surfing have changed over the years. At the WSL, we work with incredible partners, athletes and communities to showcase the world’s best surfers and bring more awareness to the sport. Surfing is very unique in that it is not only a great sport to watch, but it brings in so much participation. Something else to remember: Everyone’s surfing experience is unique.

Wave Parks: The Newest Place to Learn

Wave parks have been popping up across the USA and we absolutely think it is a positive trend. Wave systems are a great opportunity to bring a level of accessibility and consistency to participants at all levels. We’re living in a very innovative time for these surf systems where we get to see new facilities and technologies emerging quite consistently in different markets.

How Destinations Can Contact WSL Regarding Hosting an Event

Depending on the type of break, we’re always open to evaluating new opportunities and locations across all of our tours and competitions. We encourage anyone to reach out to us or have conversations with our Regional Presidents to discuss potential opportunities. Our website address is www.worldsurfleague.com.

WSL Uses Its Events to Help Aspiring Surfers Try the Sport

At every Championship Tour competition, we host our beachside engagement program called WSL Rising Tides. WSL Rising Tides is a cornerstone of the WSL’s values, providing young surfers access to the world’s best surfers and a platform to explore and learn from their heroes about pursuing their dreams in and out of the water.

At these events, the WSL invites young up-and-coming surfers the opportunity to surf and speak with the pros. What’s also special about this program is we are often also able to create a space in the surf break for these groups to participate and have the waves to themselves, giving them the ability to surf some of the most challenging or crowded breaks in the world, without the pressure of having a competitive lineup that you’d likely see most days at that location. SDM

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