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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

Sep 25, 2019

A New Home for Mountain Biking in India

The first mountain biking competition in Ladakh is a symbol for the youth culture to ride big and dream bigger.

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WRITTEN BY

Tenzin Jamphel

I have come a long way from wondering what a “dual suspension” bike is, to organizing the very first Mountain Bike festival in Leh, Ladakh, my home in the Himalaya. It has only been two and a half years since I first picked a Scott XC mountain bike based purely on the brand name and the appealing neon colour. My knowledge of that bike was limited to it being just an expensive cycle. Fast forward to the present situation, where I have been tucked up in my bed for weeks due to a jump gone wrong while riding a “dual suspension” bike. My passion for this growing sport has gotten the better of me, or so it would seem.

Vilayat Ali on the newly built Pump track in Leh, Ladakh.

The dream of the first mountain biking event in Ladakh was envisioned by many riders who had visited this mountainous region in Northern India in the past. Vinay Menon, India’s pioneering free-rider, who had made quite a few rounds to the Ladakh mountains in the past few years, was excited about the prospect of bringing the first-ever event to life and exposing an entirely new generation to a sport that he and I both love. Vinay honored us by getting his hands dirty to build the tracks for the competition.

Vinay Menon demonstrating a jump for the spectators.

Some might say the event location is on sacred ground. I acquired use of the land, which the locals refer to as “Disko Valley”, from a local monastery. Although at first glance the land appeared to be nothing more than a dump area filled with trash and shattered glass bottles, I could see past all of that to the true potential of the space. My company, which I co-founded with two of my friends Tundup Gyatso and Urgyan Skaldan, is an MTB-based travel company in Leh – hence the name Unexplored Ladakh. My colleagues and I held high hopes for the local riding culture and the sport to become something bigger. Our initiative started to gain attention when an MTB magazine from China showed interest in us and decided to support us in manifesting our vision. And to our luck, the local tourism department felt the same and decide to aid us in funding this event.

Rinku Thakur on a final Downhill race run.

The idea was to transform this barren land into a “skills” bike park that would essentially become a playground for the locals to come to get an understanding of the sport. By making this park inclusive to all ages and genders, who hoped to aid in developing a strong MTB culture in Ladakh.

A local girl rides the Pump course.

The very first mountain biking festival in Ladakh represents the changing times in Ladakh’s social structure. It is a physical representation of the changing mindset of the youth here and the possibilities of seeing a bigger picture rather than following the status quo. The main idea for this event flourished with the specific goal of encouraging the locals, especially the younger generation, to get involved in this sport and also to develop the region into a top mountain biking destination in the country.

Junior competitors racing on the Downhill track.

When I first dropped in on a full-speed ride down one of the newly built trails, I couldn’t help but wonder why we did not do this earlier. We have an abundant supply of landscape that you could say is perfectly designed for mountain biking and yet any seed of a riding culture has been repressed until now. Today, preparations for the festival are in full swing with Vinay’s helpful hands and knowledge guiding us along in building the Downhill track and also a Pump track. I would have never imagined this in Ladakh.

Winners of the Downhill race stand at the podium.

The festival is a two-day event consisting of multiple competitions and workshops. It stands as an introductory event leading up to other prominent events this season like the Suru Boulder Fest, Ladakh Marathon and The North Quest Challenge. Next to these more established events, I can’t help but feel a little intimidated, given the fact that we are the new players in the festival lineup and also of the nature of our sport within the hierarchy of sports in India.

The first day of the event is purely based as an introduction of the sport to the locals. We also teach MTB essentials like bike maintenance and basic repair knowledge. The second day is focused more on the competition side of things with a short-track Downhill competition open to both local and outside riders, and a Pump track challenge held as well.

A glow of excitement rushes through me as I write this, as I can still picture one particular young kid riding his bike with immense joy on one of our brand new Downhill course features. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tackling a giant, scary jump in a few years.

Urgyan Skaldan on a final Downhill race run.

I personally take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that I did not even know how to adjust my saddle post a few years back and now I am one of the first generation riders in Ladakh, which now has its very first MTB festival. This growing community of riders represents the possibility of a thriving culture in Ladakh in the coming years that I believe will take the Mountain Biking circuit in the country by storm in the next few years.

Learn more about Tenzin’s efforts to build a thriving MTB culture in Ladakh

Feature Image: Vinay Menon catches air on the Downhill race track

Photos by Praveen Jayakaran.

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