The Flyer: What Follows The Five Rings
So this is how surfing in the Olympics begins, not with a bang but a whimper.
Something that promised so much - So much spectacle! So much schmaltz! - just passed by in a puff of meh. I wasn’t overwhelmed, I wasn’t underwhelmed, just whelmed. A feeling that passed mere minutes after the final hooter sounded.
Leading up to the Olympics surfers broke into two distinct camps.
In the red corner were the angry old walruses saying surfing in the ‘Lympics was lame. That it symbolised the death knell of a lifestyle. Surfing isn’t a sport, they argued emphatically, and even if it was a sport then a one-comp world champion is a nonsense. Together they hurrumphed, or made whatever noise it is that walruses make.
And in the blue corner were the effervescent cheer squad. Happy to back their boys and girls, to cheer ‘em to glory or commiserate their losses, to vicariously ride the roller coaster of human endeavour, maybe even throw a li’l Irukandji sting amongst the good-natured carry on. In times of COVID you need something to smile about.
I saw these two teams coming and thought I’d have material for weeks.
In May I had a conversation with a sometime-surfing journo who shared my sense of the coming extravaganza. “For surfers of our generation it’ll be the craziest thing we’ve seen,” said he, and I concurred. Together we were thinking mainstream media superlatives, Bradbury moments, instant superstars, maybe even a drug scandal to spice it up - stories that would indelibly alter the sport forever.
And on some level the Olympics delivered. Kanoa greasing that frontside 360 to beat Gabs was one moment that brought the chicken skin, Amuro Tsuzuki claiming bronze on home turf was another, and of course Italo’s finals performance.
Yet when I look around the mainstream media, or even within the Olympic broadcast environment, there’s very little recognition of the surfing event, and I don’t know if it’s the size of the circus, or the subdued nature due to COVID, but none of the above plotlines seem destined to last.
In fact, zooming out to the wider culture, surfing post-Olympics doesn’t seem destined to change much at all. The ISA boosterism appears an unlikely outcome, meaning the lifestyle the old walruses love won’t change much either - notwithstanding the newby COVID crowds of course.
I’m not entirely sure if this is just my interpretation or not. You see, I’m five weeks into a bastard lockdown and I’m aware the restrictions are colouring my outlook. Yet moments of lucidity arise, and though it was only three days ago, surfing in the Olympics already seems like a sideshow.
Perhaps Teahupoo in 2024 will be the spectacle I was expecting.
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