Just A Thought: Surfing In The Olympics Will Actually Be Awesome


Last night, sitting in a budget motel room in a regional Canadian small town, I flicked around the in-room TV until I found a baseball game. It was an alright game, the Toronto Blue Jays beating the New York Yankees 4-0, but while it was on, the tv station kept flashing up mini-screen highlights of a much better story playing out over at the Rogers Cup – a masters series tennis tournament that serves as a lead in to the US Open – where an unknown 18 year old Canadian kid was on his way to winning the second set against World No.2 Rafael Nadal. By the time the baseball game was over, the kid had indeed won the second set, and was hanging on for dear life in the deciding third, which the tv station interrupted their regular programming to cross over to live. It was a wild ride.

The kid was ranked 140-something, while on the other side of the court, Nadal was a match away from returning to the world No.1 spot, a feat major sports sites across the Internet considered a fait accompli. Sitting in the player’s box was superstar Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak (the teenager who took gold in the 100m freestyle and the silver in the 100m butterfly while still just 16 at the last Olympics). Sitting courtside was national hockey hero “the great one” Wayne Gretzky. And watching live, you got a sense the whole country was staying up and tuning in.

When the kid finally won, it was one of those exhilarating moments that can only be achieved by live broadcast sports. This morning, between Trump v North Korea soundbites, this kid’s victory (his name is Shapavolov) is on repeat all over the news channels. You can almost hear people saying over coffees and the morning paper, “Did ye see that there new tennis kid yesterday night?” Canada wide.

It reminded me how fun and exciting sports are, no matter what they are, when you have someone to root for – like Canada had with this new kid last night. Which got me to thinking about the Olympics, and to surfing in the Olympics, and how most of the commentary around that has been negative or ridiculed, but all of it coming from our surfing perspective.

Perhaps we’ve been looking at it from the wrong angle.

Maybe surfing’s success at Tokyo 2020 won’t be up to us surfers who are consumed by weather patterns and WSL Fantasy Surfing strategies, and John John Florence vs Matt Wilkinson at Teahupo’o over this weekend, but instead by general Australian sport fans who just want to watch the world’s best at something, particularly when Australia is a chance at the gold. They’re the ones who are going to stay up late to watch Ethan Ewing or Julian Wilson, Matt Wilkinson, or whoever Australia has in their team in three years, go for gold against Filipe Toledo and Leo Fioravanti.

Australia has kind of sucked the past two Summer Games, far from the success we saw at the Olympics of Sydney, Athens, or Beijing anyway. And with surfing included at Tokyo, Australia is being gifted a sport that we’re really bloody good at, with ready-made champions and heroes waiting to be embraced by a greater Australian public thirsty for winners.

Us surfing fans are used to seeing Wilko and Sally win Bells, or Mick and Steph win World Titles. But this will be a totally new experience for a rest of Australia not dedicated enough to keep up to date with our funny fringe sport and its erratic scheduling.

Shit, if jumping Jai Taurima (“Jumping Jai, it’s time to fly!) can capture the imagination of the country for a single night in the year 2000, imagine what Matt Wilkinson could do in a live broadcast final against Gabriel Medina?

Will we not be stoked to see Ethan Ewing or Julian Wilson, Tyler Wright or Macy Callaghan, or whomever it might be, on the front pages of every paper in the country the morning after the Olympic Games surfing final if they win gold?

Remember in the 90s when we used to get psyched that surfing would get a 25 second mention on Sports Tonight, at 11.43 pm on a Tuesday? In 2020 we’re going to get Bruce McAvaney throwing to it live on Channel 7.

Speaking of Bruce McAvaney, look at this parody clip of Bruce by Rob Sitch and The Late Show. Wouldn’t it be fun to have him mention in the same sentence, “Oooohhhh, Nikki Van Dijk in the surfing, wasn’t she special…”

Yes, we know the surfing in Tokyo is not nearly going to be as good as Teahupo’o this weekend. It probably won’t even be as good as the US Open just past. But if Australian sports fans get a gold, and if it’s presented by the likes of Bruce McAvaney, and if Aussie pensioners in Broken Hill are asking each other over newspapers and coffee,”Did you see that Matthew Wilkinson chap yesterday?” it’ll be a pretty great time regardless. Just a thought.

Mike Jennings