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Surfing Was Set to Debut at the Summer Olympics. 2020 Had Other Plans

[surfer music playing] “Surf riding, once the sport of Hawaii’s kings and queens.” The sport of surfing has come a long way since its ancient Polynesian roots. Yet the concept is still the same. Surfers take to the ocean in search of the perfect ride. In 2020, surfing was to be awarded one of the highest honors in sports, a place at the Olympics for the first time ever. “So then, the world’s biggest sporting event has been postponed.” [interposing voices] “The prime minister of Japan just announced a plan to delay the summer Olympic Games.” This is Bedel Saget, reporter at The New York Times. “Should I clear this pile here?” “No —” He recently spoke with eight of surfing’s best, all of whom have qualified for the Olympics and are currently scattered around the world. “OK.” “Hello.” “Hey, Caroline.” “Hey, Ítalo.” “Should I start?” “Yes, yes.” “My name is John Florence.” “I’m Owen Wright.” “I’m Sally Fitzgibbons.” For many, the introduction of surfing at the Olympics will be brand new, with lots to watch out for. “Olympic surfing is going to be new. So what do you feel makes surfing unique?” For starters, surfing is like no other sport. “I believe surfing has a different look and feel to a lot of other sports.” TV announcer: “We have a full rotation.” “And I think skating or tennis or soccer —” “All of these, you have the field or you have the court, and it’s set.” “— you can see all the things on your front.” But this isn’t the case in surfing. “In surfing, you have a playing field essentially that’s always changing.” “We are not given a map on how to exactly surf.” “It’s so hard to win. And it’s so hard for things to go your way.” “And this is the challenge. You never know until you go.” Here’s how surfing will work at the Olympics next year. At the most basic level, there are three types of surfing maneuvers. There’s aerials. TV announcer: “Finds it, goes to the air.” TV announcer: “That’s a full spin and a half.” “So when you leave the face of the wave.” “And when you have a lot of speed —” “Speed to fly.” “Yeah, you’re literally in the air.” “And then you go and land on the wave again.” TV announcer: “He eyes a section. Huge straight air from Gabriel Medina.” “It’s good to fly sometimes.” Turns. TV announcer: “Medina bashes the lip.” “And that’s where your board is on the wave face. And then it’s just drawing the lines and all the spray will come off your board.” “And then —” And then barrels. “Which is like the holy grail.” “You’re just in this tunnel of water.” “You’re like oh my gosh, here’s the one.” “It’s kind of where time slows down.” “And then it gets all —” [blowing] [blowing] “That kind of sound.” “It spits and it just goes all white and cloudy.” “It’s like quick, like boom.” “It’s always like amazing every time you do it.” Surfing’s Olympic debut will be held in Chiba at Tsurigasaki Beach, 25 miles southeast of Tokyo. “Let’s talk about Chiba, the Olympic venue.” “The conditions in Chiba, I feel as though they are the ultimate leveler.” “Chiba is a hard wave to surf.” Unlike waves on say the north shore of Oahu, or in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, the waves at Chiba are known for being on the smaller side. “You’ll see a lot of really technical surfing.” “A lot of action.” “Probably a little bit of spinning, a bit of gymnastics on water I believe.” “And the surfer that suits that the best —” TV announcer: “John John goes for the giant ally-oop and sticks it.” “— is me.” TV announcer: “He says, ‘What more do you want? I’m going to go show you some more.’ ” Aerials are difficult maneuvers for most, especially in smaller, less powerful waves. But for the Brazilians, it’s second nature. “I always say to my friends, in Brazil, the first move that you learn is air.” “Many people believe that the Brazilians will have an advantage surfing Chiba.” “Yeah, maybe. TV announcer: “Will he get an opportunity here? A full rotation!” Brazilian or not, when a surfer does land an aerial, it can be an extraordinary and highly rewarded feat. “The score is between 1 and 10 points.” This is Gabriel Medina performing a backflip for the first time in a competition. TV announcer: “Seeing his take off. Goes for the backflip rotation and pulls it off.” “You could call that a 10.” He scored a perfect 10. Judges use three criteria to score each athlete’s performance. Judge: “Nice read of the wave overall. Some tough sections.” “Based on the scores, you’re going to be judged by —” “Speed, power, and flow.” “Speed, power, and flow.” “Speed, power, and flow.” “Yeah, what does that mean to you?” “I have to get speed, flow, power all together at the same time.” Speed, power and flow are crucial to every surfing competition. “That’s the ultimate recipe.” “That’s what we all want to achieve. And if we meet all those requirements —” “And if you do all three of those —” You’re bound to score some big points. At the end of the day, you can ride as many waves as you want in the time given. “But it really comes down to your two best rides.” “The best two waves in your score line.” “And so you have to paddle around strategically.” “There will be people going left, people going right.” “Waves caught left, right, and center.” It’s a lot to look out for. And surfing, like any other sport, has its fair share of healthy competition. TV announcer: “Interesting exchange here.” “What happens on the water? Any mind games going on? Any psychological warfare?” It can sometimes be a very tactical game. TV announcer: “Strider, are you seeing these two guys battling out the back? It is intense.” “You can almost feel him breathing down John John’s neck.” “You definitely have these moments when some competitors have their tactics.” “Do you say hi before your heat? Do you shake their hand?” “I never cross eyes with anyone.” TV announcer: “Well, here we go.” And then there are the paddle battles. TV announcer: “Shoulder to shoulder, they’re hitting hands right now as I speak.” A race to surfing’s real start line where the waves are breaking. “The paddle battle is the ultimate fun.” “Ah, the paddle battle. I hate that.” “I don’t like the paddle battle.” TV announcer: “Let’s see if we can get a paddle battle here going.” The first surfer back to the start line wins. And the prize? They get priority — the ability to have their pick of the next incoming wave. Most of the time, being tall isn’t an advantage in the water. But in a paddle battle, your height and wingspan can make all the difference. “Some have the ultimate wingspan.” Take a guy like Owen Wright, for example. TV announcer: “This is a good paddle battle — look at the size of Owen’s arms.” “My wingspan’s 6’7, so —” TV announcer: “Owen Wright has four inches more wingspan than Michael Phelps.” “The guy’s like bigger than me.” TV announcer: “This is good stuff, boys. I love it.” “So who’s going to win gold?” “Well, I’d love to win gold.” “I definitely dream of a gold medal.” “Oh, Australia for sure. Are you guys kidding?” But here’s the thing about surfing. At the end of the day, the ocean doesn’t care about holding periods, priority or nationalities. And the fans know it. There are never guarantees. But that’s what makes it so exciting. If the waves don’t cooperate, there goes someone’s Olympic dream. So for surfing’s 2020 Olympic debut, now on hold until 2021, may the best surfer get the best waves. [cheering]

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