Riding The Wave: A New Era
'With the prospect of a truly global audience looming at the Olympic Games in Rio, 2016, is it time for a new stage in the development of surfing?'
Ben van Vlymen | 7 March 2016

Surfing emerged after Captain James Cook's description while observing the Polynesians riding waves, and it has since, subtly, appeared in the world of sport. Now gathering pace exponentially, in the 33rd year of international professional surfing, more advertising and sponsorship funds are flowing in than ever before. New tours, events and mediums through which the public can experience surfing are becoming commonplace – innovation is key among surfing publicists. With the prospect of a truly global audience looming at the Olympic Games in Rio, 2016, is it time for a new stage in the development of surfing?

In recent years, surfing has evolved into something that the founder of the Association of Surfing Professionals probably never would have dreamed of – a global sport that is attracting sponsorship, investment and spectators from all corners of the globe. The concept of the 'Dream Tour' has become a reality, with events moving away from metropolitan zones to shores with the highest quality of surfing. Tahiti, in French Polynesia, has been the most notable development. With a population of just under 180,000, the island is now home to one of the most highly-anticipated events of the year. On the shore of the small village of Teaphupo'o, also nicknamed the 'Place of Skulls', is the reef break. Big-wave surfers ride here annually, searching for the deadliest waves to satisfy their thirst for adrenaline. Thicker than it is high, and moving so much water that the wave itself is ridden from below sea-level, this monstrous phenomenon is probably the most beautiful but deadly wave that a surfer could ever imagine.

The recent emergence of the Big Wave Tour has been another important advancement for the sport. In the past it has been difficult to organise such a tour, as conditions at Peahi, Maui, for example, come around only once a year - even then, the window for the infamous wave, ‘Jaws’ is short. Most readers will probably never have heard of the wave, however, I have no doubt that you will have seen it. Remember that YouTube video, “Struck in Tsunami” (if you do not, I recommend having a watch)? That wave is certainly not a tsunami, simply a big wave, and is in fact ‘Jaws’, the wave from which Laird Hamilton pioneered tow-in surfing. Laird’s fearless antics have opened the door to a host of exciting possibilities for the most daring surfers. One such opportunity was taken two years ago, when Garrett McNamara made every major news channel by surfing the biggest wave ever ridden, at 100 feet in Nazaré, Portugal. It seems that surfing is beginning to take off.

The World Surf League have made major developments in the Championship, Big-wave and Longboard tours, to name a few, but have also driven women’s surfing forward immensely. With organisers aiming to push more funding towards and host more exciting events for the Women’s Tour, surfing has become one of the fastest progressing sports towards gender equality. Now attracting very similar amounts of money, the hope is that the Women’s Championship Tour will be brought back home to Pipeline, Hawaii.

More recent interests into surfing have been catalysed by GoPro, which was, in fact, invented by a surfer. Now, even the ordinary consumer can try their hand at filming sport like a professional. Even with all these new and exciting prospects emerging from within surfing, and the opportunity for a truly enormous audience at the Rio Olympic Games, I have no doubt that this sport will remain true at heart to its Polynesian roots.


Original image by Ben van Vlymen

James Routledge 2016