Will Adaptive Surfing Ever Be Added to the Paralympic Games?

Norway’s Ismael Guilliorit at last year’s World Adaptive Surfing Championship in La Jolla, California. Photo: ISA

The Inertia

Unless you’ve been living inside a barrel, you probably know that surfing will be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Which got us wondering: could adaptive surfing be added to the Paralympic Games?

Lineups around the world play host to adaptive surfers who shred on shortboards, longboards, stand-up paddleboards — you name it. And what’s more, adaptive surfing competitions at national and international levels already provide infrastructure to create national teams who could someday qualify for the Paralympics. So, what’s the deal?

Unlike the International Olympic Committee, which adds new sports to the Olympics whenever the wind shifts (speed climbing? really?).  The International Paralympic Committee, the body that oversees the Paralympics, currently doesn’t have a way to add new sports.

For at least a couple of years, the International Surfing Association, the international body that represents surfing at the Olympic and Paralympic levels, has been tugging at the IPC’s sleeve for surfing’s inclusion in the Paralympics. But as yet, the IPC hasn’t moved to include it.

So far, they’ve said they’re not going to add new sports,” said ISA President Fernando Aguerre. “But we will continue trying because we believe surfing brings a whole new perspective to the Olympic Games and adaptive surfing will bring a whole new perspective to the Paralympic Games.”

When the IOC makes a change, the IPC generally follows suit, Aguerre says. So, it’s very likely too late for adaptive surfing to make the cut for the next Paralympic Games (which follow each Olympics by two weeks at the same venues).

Certainly, if the IPC decides to include adaptive surfing, the athletic field would be impressive. In last year’s inaugural ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships, held in La Jolla, California, 69 surfers from 18 countries competed. And adaptive surfing is only growing — this year’s event, slated for December 8-11 at La Jolla Shores Beach, will have an even larger field, Aguerre says.

Even if the Paralympics remains a distant possibility, adaptive surfing may be getting closer. For the first time it’ll be included in the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru in 2019, where athletes will compete in shortboard, longboard, SUP surfing and SUP racing events. Many sports use the Pan American games as a qualifier, which could be a signal of things to come.

“We’re moving in many different directions to secure participation of adaptive surfers in the Paralympics,” Aguerre says.

Still, there’s reason for adaptive surfers not to sweat being given the cold shoulder for Tokyo in 2020: the fact that surfers will compete in the ocean at beach breaks not known for world-class surf. Might as well wait until wave pools can crank out immaculate, head-high drainers.