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Making First Waves: Surfing, climbing, skateboarding, karate, baseball & softball make their Olympic debut at Tokyo Games


A surfer from Brazil during the men's surfing competition at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan (AP photo)A surfer from Brazil during the men's surfing competition at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan (AP photo)A surfer from Brazil during the men’s surfing competition at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan (AP photo) This year’s Tokyo Olympics is not just going through unprecedented circumstances and social impediments, but tough weather conditions as well. The heat and humidity, for one, are a major concern in many sports. Plus, there’s a prospective typhoon forming off the coast.

There are some sports, however, which are benefitting because of this. Take, for instance, surfing. The sport got its due after many years of struggle and entered the Games for the first time this year. And the big waves and great winds work best for surfers. “There’s going to be good waves, there’s a strong typhoon off the coast of Japan and we know that the waves are getting bigger,” Fernando Aguerre, president, International Surfing Association (ISA), was quoted as saying in a news report. First elected to the top job at the ISA in 1994, Aguerre is happy to see the sport finally make it to the biggest stage. His intention now is to make it a mainstay of the Olympics. Hard work is really only the beginning, Aguerre told Reuters. He also hopes that the sport gets included at the Los Angeles and Brisbane Games in 2028 and 2032, respectively. Not just surfing, Aguerre would like to see other disciplines such as stand-up paddle racing and longboarding included too.

At the Olympics, athletes can surf at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan. The competition represents 20 men and 20 women from 17 countries. The athletes compete, with each heat lasting 20-25 minutes, depending on the quality of the waves. The International Olympic Committee’s 2016 decision to include surfing in the Olympics for the first time this year marks a new era in the history of watersports.

The first surfing reference dates back to 1756 in Polynesia, a group of islands in the Pacific, which geographically connects the points of Hawaii and New Zealand. The sport was introduced by the Polynesians and was later popularised in the writings of author Mark Twain.

Interestingly, it was more than a century ago that Duke Kahanamoku, a talented swimmer and one of the best surfers on the Hawaiian Islands (also a five-time Olympic medallist for swimming), expressed his desire to include surfing in the Olympic Games. Known as the ‘father of modern surfing’, who advocated for the sport to be added to the Olympic programme, he competed in the Games in Stockholm and won the 100-m freestyle swimming contest in 1912.

However, surfing is not as easy as it looks. There are certain rules and factors largely dependent on the velocity of waves, wind and water. Besides the skill of catching the wave and popping up in the right place, there are various geographic, meteorological and topographic factors. The change in waves’ speed and direction, variation in height, coastal heights, etc, all ensure that it’s not an easy activity.

Surfing consists of two disciplines: shortboard and longboard. At the Tokyo Olympics, athletes are using shortboards. A shortboard refers to any board that’s shorter than seven feet in length. It usually has a pointed nose and is lightweight. The athletes are being judged on the type and difficulty of manoeuvres performed. One such manoeuvre is when a surfer can do an aerial spin in a complete circle and land gracefully. Such jaw-dropping moves can make the game quite an enthralling watch.

Besides surfing, there are other games, too, that have debuted at the Tokyo Olympics. These are climbing, skateboarding, karate, baseball and softball. Karate consists of two disciplines for both men and women: kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). Another interesting sport that involves tricks, speed and height is skateboarding, which represents the street culture of southern California. For both men and women, skateboarding consists of two events: park and street, where the player can individually perform a series of tricks.

Athletes participating in sport climbing are performing in three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing. Men’s baseball and women’s softball have six countries competing.

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