Liquid Lines

Surfing Will Be in the 2020 Olympics: Do We Care?

So Much Sand, and a Run of Fun Surf
By JON COEN | Aug 10, 2016
Photo by: Rob Raimo Mike Kramer stalls for the bowl on a pretty green line last week. We just had our best stretch of swell of the summer.

The big news in surfing broke last week. Surfing is officially in the Games of the 2020 Olympiad. I’m not sure what’s more daunting, the idea of surfing in the Olympics or just the idea that 2020 is an actual thing. I’m pretty confident, however, that if hate gets good voter turnout in November, we won’t have to worry about anything that far off on the horizon.

But I guess four years isn’t a long time to wait, considering the whole topic of surfing in the Olympics has been tossed around now for what, 20, 25 years?

First off, congratulations to International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre, the Argentine who started the sandal company Reef, and has made it his lifelong goal to get surfing into the Olympics. He’s a good man with a lot of energy and passion.

So what we know is that surfers will have to qualify to represent their countries. We also know that the Olympic competition will be in the ocean and not a manmade wave. The interesting thing there is that the artificial wave technology available when the IOC first started considering surfing looks like cave drawings compared to Kelly Slater’s wave pool. But the decision has been made to hold the event at a break near Tokyo called Shida. And Surfline, which has more authority on this than anyone else in the world, determined this would be the best spot based on swell and wind direction.

Now that we have the congratulations and facts on the table, in my opinion, the International Olympic Committee blew it on this call. And that’s not to say I am opposed to surfing in the Olympics, nor do I have anything against the Olympics, but here’s my reasoning:

Five new sports were announced for the Tokyo Olympics – surfing, baseball/softball, skateboarding, karate and climbing. At the same time, there were three sports that did not make the cut – bowling, squash and washu. (I’m told washu is some sort of Chinese martial art.) I can’t say I know too much about any of these sports besides chucking a few in the gutter at Thunderbird Lanes once every three years. But as little as I know about them, I can almost guarantee that the squash and washu communities would have been far more excited about inclusion in the 2020 games than surfers are. And for that matter, I think skateboarders care even less.

We certainly have debated it enough, and those debates reached a crescendo this week. There is a very significant portion of the global surfing community that hates the idea of surfing in the Olympics, and they are very vocal about it. There’s a sentiment that it will inspire more people to take up surfing, putting even more people in the crowded line-ups of the world. Keep in mind that these people don’t surf Long Beach Island in the winter, where you are welcome to trudge through the snow to pretty much surf 90 percent of our Island by yourself.

As someone who will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid crowds, I’m not sure if this will bring the masses down to the water in staggering numbers or not, but I’m not sure it possibly could do more so than pro surfing already does. Last year, the Association of Surfing Professionals actually changed its name to the World Surf League to make it sound more mainstream, like National Football League or Australian Rugby League. They’ve reined in the Big Wave World Tour and every other major surfing event to be under their umbrella. The webcasts and post-production content are extremely professional. Surfers compete on the best waves in the world on (usually) the best days of the year. The waves at Shita simply won’t compare to the wow-factor of the Billabong Pro Tahiti when Teahu’poo has the whole Pacific Ocean folding over 2 feet of water, or even to the perfectly groomed skatepark waves at Trestles. Again, I am not using this as a reason that surfing shouldn’t be in the five-ring circus; I’m just saying it won’t be as inspiring as what’s already available. And yes, it might bring more first-timers out for surf lessons, but the number of newbies who will ever paddle out again after their first time is miniscule.

There is also the idea that the Olympics have become too commercial. I don’t know much about that, but professional surfing now aligned with Jeep, Target, Pacifico, and Samsung doesn’t really make it seem like we’re any kind of subculture on the fringe. But it creates jobs, and folks are supporting their families being involved with something they love. Just stating facts. Also, the IOC made it very clear that it is trying to reach a younger audience. Past generations were more interested in the Olympics than today. So, yeah, it’s a business decision at the end of the day. It’s also trying to stay relevant. Who can fault them for that?

Then there’s a contingent that has been all for surfing being in the Olympics. Some of them will profit; others just like seeing our sport legitimized to the overall world of athletics.

And then there is a huge percentage of surfers who are impartial. They’re simply not going to watch Olympic surfing if there are waves that day, or flounder biting, or a preseason football game, or a chance to tie up 300 boats in the bay off Ship Bottom ... or old “Gilligan’s Island” reruns.

Now remember, I am not necessarily for or against surfing in the Olympics. I’m just saying that had squash been chosen or if washu had made the cut, I have to imagine that squash players and washuwashuers? would probably be ecstatic across the board. There wouldn’t be blog posts about why it is or isn’t good for those sports. There wouldn’t be snarky dudes posting uneducated comments without reading the facts laid out in Surfline stories. The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t be publishing articles about how surfing and skating are too cool for the Olympics. Squash and washu athletes and fans who watch would probably just be grateful – and everyone would be glued to the Olympics four years from now.

As for me, the only question I really have is how is surfing in the Olympics going to impact our next session? Two weeks ago, the Vans U.S. Open was webcast from Huntington Beach with most of the best surfers in the world at a downright historic venue. I watched about five minutes. Unless I have a specific assignment for a mag or website, when Teahu’poo runs later this month, I will likely catch some of the highlights after the fact, lying in bed at night, on my phone. Who wants to be staring at a screen in the summertime? If the Pipe Masters final falls on a weekend in late December, I might have a few friends over and stream it through my TV, if the surf is flat. But that’s about it. Most of us would rather be doing than watching. I think most surfers will spend less time watching the Rio Olympics this week than they will watching the ocean for the next swell.

So what impact will this have the first little day of longboard waves after the 2020 Olympics, or the clean-up of that nasty November storm we seem to get every year, or when we travel to the Caribbean in the winter of 2020? I don’t suspect anything will be different. Because personally, other than that, I literally could not care any less.

FINALLY SCORED: Yes, yes. We finally had some surf worth getting excited over. And to my knowledge, no one lost his or her mind before that shot of windswell we had late last weekend. There was nothing outstanding or epic about this swell aside from maybe the water temperature, which has consistently been above 70. Actually, if there was anything outstanding about it, it’s that we had four days in a row of rideable surf with amazingly warm temps. Frankly, I see people in wetsuits in this water and have to wonder if they wear wetsuits in the shower at home or booties in the swimming pool.

Both the waves and warm water were a result of a pretty steady northeast flow from Wednesday through Friday morning. Tuesday’s surf peaked at about 2 feet while Wednesday and Thursday had solid 3-foot waves. You may have noticed the waves to be more crowded than usual. That happens after long flat spells. It also happens after half the Island gets buried by replenishment and good sandbars become few and far between ... more about that later.

All in all, in a summer like this, we will take warm, sloppy surf. It’s a chance to get off the summertime groveler board and ride a true shorty. Even if it wasn’t clean, it still felt great to make something of a critical drop and the odd chance to do a turn after so many weeks of tiny swell. Heck, it feels great to just pull into a tiny closeout or just do a real duck dive. We’ve been due.

The wind finally subsided on Thursday night. Friday morning, we awoke to clean peaks. Pretty much every beach that hasn’t been replenished had glassy peaks. I don’t know that the wind ever actually went offshore, as was apparent with the little bump on the surface, but who’s counting? Friday was the best day of the summer so far, with thigh- to chest-high, clean waves filtering through, with both left and rights on offer. It wasn’t particularly punchy, but it was certainly enough to get us back in the groove, especially for the early crew who got it before the tide.

Eventually, it got slower and then the wind came up, pretty much blowing it out by midday.

The wind switched to south and continued to blow through Friday, mixing the old east swell with the new southeast windswell. This had as much size as any point in the week and would have been a fantastic day of waves, but unfortunately was marred by a steady southwest wind – that devil wind on LBI that looks clean, but cuts the wave into sections. It was blowing at dawn and only got stronger through the day. Still, you could definitely find some quick corners and make something of it.

We had a respectable little wave again on Sunday. There was a touch of north in the northwesterlies early, but then it went straight offshore for most of the morning, before a more onshore flow in the afternoon. There was even some residual swell on Monday with pretty clean conditions. Nothing epic, but you can’t scoff at any kind of wave in a summer like this. Aside from a little disturbance in the Gulf, there’s not much to report in the tropics. I may just copy the last part of that line and paste it into every column this summer.

SANDED DOWN: LBI is bigger now than it has been in some time. I think there are a few developers looking to throw up condos on the new dunes since we have such wide beaches.

But for real, in the history of beach replenishment on LBI, there have never been so many stretches of beach so freshly replenished at once. With most of the easements in hand, and not having to do new dunes anywhere north of Brant Beach, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock has been flying through sections of the Island. And that’s good for everyone. In fact, according to Mike Kramer of Harvey Cedars, who has worked with his town for better beach projects, “The brand new beach at the north end of town (looks) pretty darn nice. In fact, it looks almost exactly like the profile on 80th St. It’s the same gradient and goes out exactly as far. There is a dip between 81st and 83rd where the beach gets narrower, but otherwise the new beach mimics 80th St. These dredgers got really good over the years. It’s a far cry from the nightmare of broken neck beach profiles they gave us in 2010.”

I only wish I had better news from the South End. Despite the several months since Beach Haven was pumped, there are still no rideable waves or sandbars to walk out on. In surfing terms, the Queen is dead. And Prince Holgate is equally buried. This has been the topic of many conversations in the surf community, as August and September hurricane swells tend to be best in those neighborhoods. Holyoke and Beach One would have been very good on this last east swell. Hopefully the light standings that we have yet to get in Cedars and Surf City will sort themselves out when the ocean starts moving a little more. Maybe the engineers who design these beaches need to go bodysurfing on the South End; we can help them pull the shells from their teeth.

COMING UP: This is the thick of it. It’s hot, crowded, work is crazy, and there’s so much to do it’s almost hard to plan your days. It’s possible to start the day with a stand-up paddle, then do yoga, then do stand-up paddle yoga, get a full day of work, get to a contest, ukulele lessons, and finish the day with a concert in the park. Too much, right? But six months from now when you’re sitting around trying to decide if you should spend your last $10 on pool at the local pub or pay your heating bill, you’ll wish you had these options.

So, coming up, everyone’s favorite LBI-to-California transplant artist Julie Goldstein is home. You can check out the opening for her show, “The Fisherwoman,” this Friday night at the Ann Coen Gallery in Surf City.

Saturday is the Alliance for a Living Ocean LBI Longboard Classic in Ship Bottom. As always, competitors must ride pre-1969 surfboards that are at least 3 feet over their heads. You can register online at LivingOcean.org. There will be live raffles, food, and a general good time.

Aug. 18 is the last of the Third Thursday Makers’ Pop Ups, going on at various locations around mid-Island. Then on Aug. 20 or 21, the Central New Jersey District of the ESA will hold contest #5 of the year in Ship Bottom, sponsored by Surf Unlimited.

As for surf, the tropics remain very still, and I’m not seeing much happening in local waters to get too excited about. Maybe sit back and watch Olympic fencing?

joncoen@thesandpaper.net

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