There could hardly have been a better backdrop for adding surfing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics than Rio De Janeiro’s legendary sandy beaches.
The IOC on Wednesday afternoon approved the inclusion of five new sports, including surfing, in a hotel conference room just a block from where Brazilians were riding the waves on a windy Rio day. Shaking off the Atlantic Ocean water as he clutched his board, 48-year-old Ivan Pfeil beamed at the decision.
“Excellent,” he said, wearing a wetsuit as he crossed a traffic-choked road to head back to his house a few blocks from the beach in Rio’s Barra Da Tijuca area.
“Surfing is a beautiful sport. It is my therapy. It is integration with nature, a mix of sports with philosophy,” added Pfeil, a business administrator who has been surfing for two decades.
While South America’s biggest country is first and foremost a soccer powerhouse, surfing has rapidly become one of Brazil’s most popular sports, with Rio providing some of the world’s best urban surfing spots.
On the prized beach of Arpoador, squeezed between Copacabana and Ipanema, spotlights allow surfers to ride waves all night. And some of the world’s top surfers, such as Gabriel Medina and Adriano de Souza, are Brazilian.
Rio is also dear to many Latin American surfers — including Argentina’s Fernando Aguerre, the president of the International Surfing Association.
“I used to come to Rio to escape the winters from Argentina to surf,” a weepy Aguerre, draped in a flowered necklace, told reporters after the vote.
“A lot of my friends are Brazilians, and we’ve been going and walking on the beach or surfing every morning since we arrived here, so (this) is like a dream come true.”
Part of the IOC’s thinking behind including surfing – as well as skateboarding, sports climbing, karate and baseball/softball- in the next summer Olympics is to attract young, urban viewers – a strategy that seems to echo in Brazil.
“The only Olympic sport I would really want to watch is surfing,” said helicopter pilot Marcio Veloso, 36, walking down towards the ocean with his board.
But as he stared out at the crashing blue waves and stretch of perfect sand, and contrasted it with Tokyo’s cold waters, there was a twinge of disappointment: “I don’t know why they didn’t include surfing at these Olympics.”