Proposed Structure for Surfing to Become an
Olympic Sport

Bruce Gabrielson, PhD
Chesapeake Beach, Maryland
September 28, 1995


The following comments are not intended to circumvent any ongoing discussions the ISA might have with the US Olympic Committee or any other Olympic organization. I also do not imply that I represent the ESA or any other competition surfing organization. My paper simply proposes a competition format (using a new technology) which might be acceptable in the future to all countries with Olympic teams, regardless of if they have a coastline or are landlocked. It should also be recognized that the following comments are made from the perspective of a US surfer.

Current Problem With World Wide Acceptance

In my opinion, surfing faces two problems. The major problem currently is the disadvantage landlocked countries have with a sport that isn't widely supported in their own country. The second problem, at least in the US, is that the National Governing Body (NGB) for surfing hasn't been serious enough in its efforts to basically "beg" acceptance from the already accepted sports.

World wide acceptance and host country acceptance are both issues that must be resolved. This paper will address both overcoming the reluctance of land locked countries, and the acceptance of surfing by other established and recognized sports.

Land Locked Country Reluctance

In order to overcome the reluctance of land locked countries, some give and take must occur between the surfing world and those who can direct Olympic competitions. The surfing community absolutely must realize that not every country cares about surfing. Therefore, the sport must provide an alternative accommodation for countries with no current interest.

If the host country has a natural break, competition could proceed similar to that existing currently. With no natural break, the accommodation must occur. The obvious answer to an accommodation for land locked countries is the use of man-made wave pools.

This proposal assumes that the host country has (1) a natural break capable of holding the competition, or (2) is willing to implement the use of a wave pool approach. Two wavepools for the competition, one of the type currently existing at many locations, and a second using the sustained wave type Gabrielson Break approach are discussed.

I would like to mention here that it is not my intent to promote my own pool design. There are several pool designs around) (none of which are built currently) that would likely be acceptable. I have given my design freely to the public, and will not make any money from a pool designed in this manner. It is simply offered as one serious solution to an existing pool problem which in the future could create a competition quality break.

Proposed Pool Contest Format

If two wave pools are employed, the contestant would be required to demonstrate his/her skill frontside and backside on breaking "natural" type waves, and then on a more mushy traditional waves. A predetermined number of rides or time period under each condition would be required for each contestant.

If only a single wave pool of the flush type currently in use is provided, the contestant could be allowed a specified number of waves where takeoff would be from one side of the pool's breaking end or the other.


1. Judging would be based on the same wave conditions, time period, number of rides, and judging criteria for all surfers.

2. Scoring could be similar to that used in gymnastics, with the highest and lowest score not counting in the total.

3. A country without a coastline but with a wavepool could potentially have a medal contender, plus could use the pool after the Olympics were over.

4. Luck in catching the "best" waves would not factor into the competition.

5. The competition would fit into the traditional Olympic "venue" format easily.


1. The judgement criteria related to wave selection would be eliminated.

2. Since the wave break is the same, trick surfing and more radical maneuvers would tend to weigh heavier in judgment criteria.

3. Boards designed for surfers who surf salt water on a regular basis could be different for the competition since the pool's fresh water would change board flotation slightly.

4. Physical conditioning would become less of a factor since there would be no need to paddle out through a break or swim in to retrieve a lost board.

Gaining Other Sport Acceptance

Gaining the acceptance of the have's by the have-not's is a serious problem. Ten years ago I put on the first formal Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) sanctioned surfing contest. Surfing had become an allied sport with AAU, and there was a need to show AAU that surfing was serious in its affiliation. The AAU, by the way, is a member of the US Olympic Committee, and maintains close relationships with many accepted Olympic sports.

The intent of the contest was not to compete with the ESA or any local districts for surfers, but to help surfing's acceptance as an organized athletic activity in the eyes of those involved with other athletic endeavors. To this end, surfing as a sport was very viable for a short period of time. However, the powers that control organized surfing did not take advantage of this visibility, and let their opportunity go.

What surfing's existing organizational structure didn't understand then, and may now only beginning to realize, is that in the eyes of the world, surfing is just another sport, and a small minority sport at that. No one really cares deep down about surfing except those who surf. Therefore, to make any progress with surfing as an Olympic sport, surfing's organizational structure is going to need other sports, or at least a multi-sport champion, to carry its banner.

In the US, the AAU could do this as it has done in the past for other sports, but it needs to feel that surfing, rather than many of its other non-Olympic sports, deserves its serious backing. Again, I don't mean to imply that the AAU is the only way into the Olympics within the US, only that it is one of the fastest proven ways.

Other countries have their own governing organizations for in-country athletic competitions. I would be willing to bet that any country that proposes a new Olympic sport will have an athlete capable of winning that sport among its own membership. Surfers in other host countries will also have to do their part in promoting the sport.

A Final Issue the US Must Face

There is a final issue the US must face that could be a problem within surfing's existing organizational structure. Hawaii is a state, and Hawaiian surfers must be part of a combined US team. This could become a factor when the surf conditions in the host country are not as challenging as Hawaiian surfers are conditioned for. In addition, should the Olympics be held using a wave pool approach, the qualification contest for the US team would be most effective if also held in a wave pool.

The second issue is selection eligibility. In many US sports, Olympic Trial qualifiers are open events, with any athlete holding a membership in the national governing body eligible to compete. A quota system based on contest points in regional events could eliminate a great surfer who simply isn't involved with organized competitions. Some special arrangements might be necessary during Olympic years for a surfer to qualify for the final trials without first being required to compete regularly in local events.


This paper has discussed one method of moving surfing further towards the status of an Olympic sport. I am sure there are other serious proposal under consideration which could also enhance the sport's credibility in the eyes of the World. However, if we are to succeed, everyone will need to do their part. In particular, those in control of surfing's organizational structure will need to learn how to be humble in the eyes of other Olympic sports.

To reach the author send email.

Note: The above page was written by Dr. Gabrielson in 1995 and may be outdated.

Dr. Gabrielson and his wife Kim are AAU Life Members and former members of the AAU National Surfing Committee. Dr. Gabrielson is the individual responsible in getting AAU support for tennis as an Olympic sport prior to its formal recognition. He hosted the first joint AAU/USTA sanctioned tennis tournament in 1985 along with an AAU surfing activity as part of the Washington DC state games. State games use the Junior Olympic multi-sport format, but on a much smaller scale than the National Junior Olympics. His wife Kim, an AAU National Chairman and Maryland AAU Sports Chairman contacted Maryland ESA regarding a joint ESA/AAU sponsored surfing event in 1986, but ESA was not interested at that time. However, several years later Florida AAU did host a jointly sponsored event using the Junior Olympic format. AAU surfing sponsorship, including holding surfing as part of the National AAU Junior Olympic Games, has since become popular. We just had a few years delay is all. Joint AAU sponsorship is a critical component of gaining AAU support for Olympic recognition.