Surfing isn’t an Olympic sport at the moment, but that could change very shortly. In just a few days’ time, the International Olympic Committee will vote on whether to include surfing in the Tokyo 2020 games. Unfortunately, the IOC won’t have the benefit of watching the world’s top surf nations go head-to-head at the 2016 World Surfing Games (Aug. 6-14 in Costa Rica) before they vote.
That’s a darn shame, since the World Surf Games are the closest approximation that surfing currently has to an Olympic-style event. With 27 nations set to compete at the 2016 edition, the games would show the Olympic brass that surfing is a truly international affair these days.
Not only will the traditional surfing powerhouses – like Australia, the US, and South Africa – be fielding teams, we’ll also see the likes of Sweden, Scotland, and Japan strut their stuff at Costa Rica’s picturesque Playa Jaco.
Who’s going to take home the gold? I’d love to say that one of the underdogs has a shot, but it’s far more likely that the traditional top-(sea)dogs keep their alpha status. Below, I analyze the three teams I see as the favorites, and set the odds on each winning the coveted World Team Trophy.
I also set the odds on surfing becoming an Olympic sport for 2020. Spoiler alert: prognosis positive!
ISA World Surfing Games 2016 Odds
Odds to win the World Team Trophy
Costa Rica: 4/1
The Costa Ricans will not only have home-beach advantage, they’re the reigning champs. But no team has repeated as world champions since Australia in 2008. None of the teams have confirmed their rosters yet, which will include up to four men and two women, but look for the host nation to be led by defending men’s champion Noe Mar McGonagle along with 2014 men’s runner-up Anthony Fillingim and 2015 women’s silver medalist Leilani McGonagle. With a roster as deep as any, Costa Rica are the deserving chalk in on their home waves.
The US didn’t field a team in 2013 or 2014, but came third last year and won the World Team Trophy the last time the games were in CR. They’ll have the legendary Brett Simpson in the mix this year; the two-time US Open of Surfing champ will join Tia Blanco, the women’s gold medalist from the 2015 World Surfing Games, giving the Americans a good a shot as anyone to claim the title.
When you think surfing, you think Australia. But the Aussies are necessarily bringing their best options to the games this year. On the women’s side, Philippa Anderson (fifth-place last year; bronze in 2014) is staying home; Jessica Grimwood and Codie Klein are more than capable of top-ten finishes, though. Klein won silver in 2013 and tied for 13th last time.
Only two of their four men have been set (Jordy Lawler and Dave Lovelock). If Shane Holmes (bronze medalist 2014 and 2015) and/or Hayden Blair (seventh-place 2014, sixth-place 2015) are added to the squad, their odds will jump.
In reality, I only see the top-three favorites having about a 50/50 shot at claiming the title, combined. Peru and South Africa have won two of the last three editions and will both field strong squads this time around, as well. The smaller surf nations, like Puerto Rico and Guatemala, don’t have much of a chance at claiming the overall title, but Argentina and Portugal have an outside shot.
Odds surfing is included at the 2020 Olympics: 1/4
All signs are pointing to surfing making the grade. Come August 3rd, the IOC will actually be voting on whether to include a package of five sports at the 2020 Olympics. Surfing is just a part of that package, which also includes baseball, karate, skateboarding, and rock climbing. The IOC’s executive board has already expressed its support for adding the quintet and, according to the official Olympics website, their addition wouldn’t require removing any other sports.
It doesn’t hurt that the 2020 host country, Japan, is a burgeoning surf nation.
Photo credit: Michael L. Baird [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.