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Athletes & Explorers

Sep 07, 2018

An Introduction to Olympic Surfing, with New Zealand’s Paige Hareb

Learn about surfing's induction into the Olympics, and how New Zealand's top surfer, Paige Hareb, is preparing for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

The 2020 Olympics will host four new sports that have yet to be showcased on the Olympic stage. Surfing, climbing, karate, and skateboarding will each make their Olympic debut.

“more youthful, more urban, and include more women.”

The goal of adding these sports is to make the Olympics appeal to a younger audience. International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach, told BBC Sport that the addition of these events will make the Games “more youthful, more urban, and include more women.”

Photo: World Surf League

the decision to include surfing in the 2020 Olympics was unanimous

Surf competitions, have for a long time, been considered controversial. Many surfers disagree about the appropriate surf conditions and technique, which can make judging surfing competitions somewhat subjective. However, with the International Surfing Association (ISA) leading the charge in competitive surfing events, the IOC has finally recognised surfing as a legitimate, organised, competitive sport, ready for its Olympic debut (in fact, out of the 90 IOC members voting, the decision to include surfing in the 2020 Olympics was unanimous).

The format of a surfing competition looks like this: There are usually 2-4 competitors in a heat, with the heat lasting between 20 and 30 minutes. Competitors are judged on the best two waves they catch during their heat. There are five judges who each give them a score out of 10, with the average of the five scores being taken. A perfect score would be 20/20 (perfect 10 for each of the two waves judged). Scoring is based on five things:

  1. Commitment and degree of difficulty
  2. Innovative and progressive maneuvers
  3. Combination of major maneuvers
  4. Variety of maneuvers
  5. Speed, power and flow.

Judging surfing is subjective, because different waves may vary in quality between heats, or even within a heat. One way that surf competitions have been able to minimize variation and secure an equal playing field is by holding competitions in artificial wave pools. There had been rumors that the Olympic surfing event might be held in one such artificial wave pool in Tokyo, in order to make it more of an objective spectator sport. However, the ISA has recently announced that the site of the surfing event in the 2020 Olympic Games will be in the ocean at Shidashita Beach, 40 miles outside of Tokyo. Surfing in the Tokyo Olympic Games will be held in a similar format as other ISA surf competitions, but it will have a 16 day waiting period in order to ensure good conditions for the event. Once the event starts, though, there will only be 2 days to finish it.

The Tokyo Olympics will host 20 male and 20 female surf athletes in a shortboard competition. There are five opportunities for athletes to qualify for the Olympics:

  • 10 men and 8 women will qualify through their sports on the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour
  • 4 men and 4 women will qualify at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games
  • One man and one woman will qualify at the 2019 Pan American Games
  • 4 men and 6 women will qualify at the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games
  • One man and one woman from the host nation of Japan will be guaranteed a slot in the Games.
Photo: World Surf League

We wanted to know a little more about surfing in the Olympics, and the process of qualifying for the event, so we got an insiders scoop! The following interview is with New Zealand’s top surfer, Paige Hareb. Paige is the first woman from New Zealand to qualify for the WSL Championship Tour, which means she has a good shot at qualifying for the Olympics.

TOJ: With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics being the first year that surfing will be held in the Olympics, what significance does this have for the sport? Do you think this will help grow the sport?
Paige: Surfing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the first time ever is such a huge moment in history for the sport of surfing and I think it can only be a positive thing for the sport. I think it will help grow the sport of surfing, audience, sponsor and talent wise. All great things!

“I’ve already made it a goal for me to medal”

TOJ: Being New Zealand’s only surfer on the World Tour, and thus New Zealand’s only surfer with a chance at the Olympic Games, how important are the Olympic Games to you?
Paige: I think other New Zealanders can qualify through the ISA World Surfing Games in 2019 & 2020 so would amazing to see another kiwi go but yeah, I feel pretty proud to be the only New Zealander on the World Tour and knowing that I have a really good chance to represent New Zealand at the Olympics. I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics since I was little, so they’re pretty important to me right now.

TOJ: In terms of preparing for the World Tour and the Olympic qualification events, how will you prepare?
Paige: I have some good people helping me out but I think for this year it might be my easiest and best way to try and qualify for the Olympics by trying to stay on the World tour for 2019, so that’s my biggest goal right now and with a couple of events left this year, I’m on the right track. Whether I go to the Olympics or not, I want to be the best I can be, so I’m always tying and training to be better!

TOJ: Where do you train?
Paige: Most of the year I travel from contest to contest and live out of my suitcase. I try to surf everyday if I’m not flying. At the start of the year I spend a bit of time at home and a lot of time on the Gold Coast, so I get a fitness trainer and coach over there. Then mid year I spend a bit of time in California and have great contacts there too.
It’s hard traveling, you kind of just have to try and make whatever work.

TOJ: Do you do any sport-specific strength training?
Paige: At the start of the season I do but then traveling so much it’s hard to find a gym and good trainers everywhere I go but if you can build a good foundation at the start of the year and then I honestly think that the best training for surfing is surfing!

TOJ: How do train your mind to be at ease under the pressure of high-profile competitions?
Paige: I really like to be in the moment, if I can get myself in the moment and be in the ‘zone’ then it will all just happen. Sometimes I feel myself getting or being nervous or overthinking so some self talk helps me get back to the job at hand and in the moment.

TOJ: If you do end up qualifying for a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, what will be your goal there?
Paige: If I qualify, I’ve already made it a goal for me to medal, it could be my only chance and I’d love to win a medal for New Zealand! That’s a bit of a obvious answer isn’t it? Haha. I’ll really be trying not to just be another number there haha

“I can’t even imagine what some of the girls and guys will be doing in even a couple of years time!

TOJ: Event organizers have announced that surfing at the 2020 Olympics will be held on a beach just 40 minutes outside of Tokyo, rather than in an artificial wave pool. Do you think this is the best way to hold the competition and showcase the sport?
Paige: If the waves are fun it will be fine but I’ve been to japan several times now and never really had good waves. I also heard that surfing will get the first three days of the Olympics. I don’t think that’s enough time because it could be flat or just really bad conditions the whole time which would suck for us as surfers, for the fans and just for the sport of surfing in general. Especially when it’s our first time in the Olympics, I think we would love to show people how fun and amazing surfing really can be and I think the best, easiest way is to have it in an artificial wave. I really hope the event organizers change their mind.

Paige Hareb surfing the wave pool at the Founders Cup competition. Photo: @alschaben

TOJ: Have you surfed in an artificial wave pool? Do you think they will help progress the future of the sport?
Paige: Yes I have surfed in the WaveGarden in Spain and also been in Kelly Slaters surf ranch many times now. They are amazing and so fun! I think the best thing about them is you can try the same move over and over on the same section until you get it! In the ocean every wave is different so it makes it a lot harder to do that. To practice over and over like snowboarding over the same big jump on a mountain or hitting a tennis ball down the same part of the court everytime, that’s what’s going to make the future of surfing get better and better and I can’t even imagine what some of the girls and guys will be doing in even a couple of years time! It’s exciting!

TOJ: Who do you look up to in the sport of surfing?
Paige: I think I have to say Kelly Slater. He’s been around forever, I grew up looking up to him and he’s the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time).

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Travel

Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

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