Where there were 20 surfers, today there are 40. Where there were 50, there are 100. Mar del Plata, in addition to being a beautiful city, is the Argentine Capital of Surfing and it shows more every day. When one retraces the road that runs along the coast of the city, one sees many boards above and inside the vehicles. There is an exponential growth in the number of people in the dozens of spots with good breaks that the beaches offer, from Constitución to Miramar via the ascending Chapadmalal. There is no average surfer, a stereotype as the myth might suggest. In the water you can see people of all kinds: men, women, adults and children. It is clear that the passion of surfing has entered the body of many. “On the beach we are, on the one hand, the surfers and, on the other, the rest of the people who would love to be able to surf”, Fernando Aguerre challenges, when he tries to explain the attraction generated by the sport he loves, the same one that led – when no one believed it possible – to be an Olympian, months ago, in Tokyo.

“The growth is noticeable in Mardel and throughout the Argentine coast, but also in the world. Because surfing is not only a sport, it is also an activity and a lifestyle. It doesn’t just have to do with how you dress or what you look like, but with what the waves do to your body, mind and soul. Going to surf changes you: you get out of the water and you don’t know what happened … For years it seemed that this sensation was part of a talk of surfer fanatics, but now there are studies, such as the one on the International Surfing Therapy Association. There are also doctors from public and state organizations on other continents, who prescribe surfing for diseases or problems, such as autism, vertigo, fear, lack of confidence and even for people who were in traumatic situations, such as ex-combatants of war. This is not entirely new, 100 years ago people went to take sea baths and, for example, we knew that sea salts healed wounds. But today we are clear that these healing properties go beyond the body, we understand better why people go to the sea. There is something there that attracts, that makes people go to play with the waves. Playing is good, imagine yourself in a healing environment … That’s why surfing grows so much.

-The fact that surfing has reached the Pan American Games and the Olympic Games strengthened this popularity?

-Although the vast majority of surfers do not compete in championships, their performance popularizes and visualizes the sport. It’s a long row, from those first tournaments that I organized at the end of 1978 in Mar del Plata until this arrival at the Pan-American Games and the Olympic Games. Everything helped popularize the sport. These achievements for me were never an end in themselves, but a means for people to understand the vitality of a healthy sea. My hope is that it helps communities understand that we must stop treating the oceans like a garbage dump. This must stop because if the sea ends, we will end.

It is impossible, when speaking of Tokyo, not to go back in the process of a conquest in which perhaps only Aguerre believed. “Some call me the father of Olympic surfing. It is true that I led it, but it was Duke Kahanamoku (NdeR: Hawaiian who played four Olympic Games as a swimmer and won three gold medals). He asked for it in 1920 but no one came forward with the idea. But it made me think it was time to do it. The problem is that there was no clear process on how to get new sports into the Games. I did not have a plan nor did I know where to go “, he relates. In 2008, at a meeting of sports federations to which he had not been invited but entered almost by chance, Aguerre showed his teeth. And their ideas, of course. “I told them ‘Do you know the X Games, where are the young sports? They missed it because they fell asleep. Now they have a new opportunity. There are many traditional sports that no longer interest people, a change is necessary. ‘ Suddenly, I was telling them how they should handle the issue and they looked at me as if to say who this is, who does he think he is … They didn’t understand, I was not part of their universe. I thought ‘these guys don’t care’. But suddenly one of us says to me, ‘wait, I need to introduce you to someone’ and comes back with someone younger, dressed in a cool way and says ‘you have to talk’ … It was Christophe Dubi, the new IOC Director of Sports. He listened to me attentively for an hour and that’s how the new wave began, ”he recalls.

Aguerre thought that insertion would come in 2009 to enter the Rio 2016 Games, but the road was longer and the chance came in that city, but to enter Tokyo 2020. “It was the longest wave of my life, I was paddling it for 22 years ”, he concludes. And, when the moment came, it was a dream. “In 2020, when the Games were to be held, there were no waves of more than 50 centimeters on the days that the competition was stipulated. By 2021 we needed a miracle. And it happened. A typhoon hit Tokyo at a time when there are none and we had excellent wave conditions. The president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, visited us at our headquarters, spent almost three hours doing the shaka (a typical sign of surfing with two fingers) and saying aloha (it means hello or goodbye in Hawaiian). That day we showed him what we are and the value we could give to the Olympic movement. During our lunch, watching the waves, I told him that we did not want to be there once but to remain permanently as part of the sports program “, Explain.

On December 9, the IOC went far beyond imagination in its quest to modernize the Games: it suspended boxing, weightlifting, and the modern pentathlon, while simultaneously announcing that surfing (along with skateboarding and climbing) would remain permanently, as Aguerre dreamed. “It is a paradigm shift, the biggest in Olympic history. It is the past versus the future. I told them 13 years ago and they looked at me like I was crazy. But that’s the way it is, you have to choose and the IOC chose. Today surfing is everywhere, there are more than 50 million surfers in the world. Even the future kings of Norway and Denmark are surfers. Surfing went from being the underdog (the weak or underdog), the outsider, to being the protagonist of the change that is coming “says Aguerre, who does not want to be called a “leader or businessman” but prefers to define himself as a “practical idealist, a philanthropist and a serial organizer”.

Fernando says that Bach and the leaders “were surprised by the camaraderie of surfing they saw in Tokyo. After the women’s final, the champion and runner-up were hugging, excited, for 6/7 seconds. Surfing generates love. YFurthermore, at the IOC they are clear that surfing helps them change the profile of those who watch the Games. The average was 54 years old and they know they had to lower it. Luckily they listened to me. It was an ant job, I won them one by one, in talks at the bar, at dinner and the elevator. We form an indestructible fabric that we will now complete with a report that we prepared, with the very strong numbers of social networks during Tokyo. We will show them the return on the investment they made with us ”, he explains.

They have such confidence in Aguerre and the ISA that for Paris 2024 they accepted that, for the second time in history, a sport would be played on another continent. It was not easy, but the president of the ISA managed to have it played in Tahiti, on the mythical wave of Teahupoo, one of the most challenging breakers in the world. “It is something revolutionary. It only happened once, in Melbourne 56, on horseback due to the difficult transfer of the horses. This speaks to the flexibility of the IOC in the face of a changing world. As sports come that are very convenient but the conditions are not ideal in that country or city, they agree to take it to another. Poplar, as they say (Tehaupoo in Tahitian) has mythical waves at that time and, in addition, it will be the return of surfing to Polynesia. That’s where the culture that would one day land in Hawaii was born. It will be a bit to go back to the beginning, it will be different and very special. Of course, living in an Olympic village is an incredible experience, but you can’t always be. In Tokyo most of the surfers were not there because it was almost two hours from the beach. The same goes for the opening ceremony, beautiful too, but nothing in life is perfect. There is much more to gain than to lose by doing it in Tahiti.



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