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World Surf League Co-Founder Fred Hemmings Talks Surfing's Olympic Debut

Tokyo Olympics Surfing John John Florence
Olivier Morin/AP
Pool AFP
John John Florence rides a wave during a training session at the 2020 Summer Olympics at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, Japan, Friday, July 23, 2021. (Olivier Morin/Pool Photo via AP)

Surfing is set to make its big Olympic debut in Japan on Sunday, barring any weather forecast changes. Four surfers from Team USA will compete, including two who were born and raised in Hawaiʻi: John John Florence and Carissa Moore.

It’s a sport with deep roots in Hawaiʻi. Former Hawaiʻi state senator and surfing world champion, Fred Hemmings co-founded the original professional surfing tour in 1976, known today as the World Surf League.

The Conversation sat down with Hemmings to discuss the evolution of the sport and his expectations for the Olympics.

"First of all, I want to congratulate all those who finally got it recognized as a sport to be included in the Olympics," Hemmings said. "But I have a great, great concern. I probably know this better than anyone in the world, having spent a number of years, two decades running professional surfing events. You can't go down on the beach on any given day and expect there to be good waves."

"They're running a high risk. The time period they set aside, the two or three days for the Olympic surfing competition, there won't be any waves. Chiba, it's being held on a beach in Japan — I've been to that beach. It's a nice little wave when it's breaking but there's oftentimes no break at all and there's just no waves," he told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. "I hope I'm wrong. I hope they have great surf but strategically they're taking quite a risk.

He said he thought they should have built a surf machine with guaranteed waves like Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch in California.

Possibly good news, the World Surf League said Thursday, "With a couple of tropical cyclones spinning out in the swell window for Shidashita Beach, the outlook continues to improve, and with it, the excitement level is growing from athletes and fans alike."

The official Olympic schedule shows surfing events from July 25 to July 28. However, there are "reserve days" if schedule changes are required.

This interview aired on The Conversation on July 23, 2021.

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