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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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Events

Mar 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.

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The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

Read next: Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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