For most nations, it's going to be the ISA World Surfing Games that hold the key to Olympic qualification in 2020. Next month, countries will assemble in Japan in a bid to take home the world title and gain a valuable seeding for next year - and it's the 2019 placement that'll determine whether they're in the Olympics or not.
For the British Surf Team, Jay Quinn, Reubyn Ash, Luke Dillon, Peony Knight, Ellie Turner and Lucy Campbell, it's next months' World Surfing Games that could hold the key to the UK getting a head start in the qualification process. But, in order to even get to the 2018 ISA World Games in Japan, they're going to need a bit of financial support, as there's no wider backing from the UK's governing sport body, Sport England. But it's also more than that, with placing well in the 2018 games, it could open the eyes of wider funding opportunities to the potential for Olympic medal placement. And with that potential, comes investment.
But you can support the British Surf Team by going HERE.
But, before we get into it, let's just put the Olympic qualification process into context. There's 40 spots up for grabs, that's 20 women and 20 men. This is the hierarchy of qualification;
*The first 10 eligible men and first 8 women from the WSL CT can qualify.
*First four eligible men and six women from the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games.
*Four men and women selected based on continent from the 2019 ISA World Games; Top finishing eligible surfer of each gender from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
* First placed man and woman from the 2019 Pam Am Games.
*Host nations gets one slot per man and woman.
What this means is – of the 206 or so countries that enter the Olympics, only a handful will be entered into the 2020 games, via the qualification process. For the British team, it's all hopes on the ISA World Games. It is why 2018 marks an important year for our talent and why it's been important to stay one step ahead. Everything's on the line here, so we decided to check in with the British Surf Team's head coach, Dave Renaud to talk through training, Olympic ambition and much more.
How's the British Surfing Team been selected?
DR: The four surfing federations in the UK, England, Wales, Scotland and the Channel Islands each sent through their list of top surfers based on results to BSurf. Each federation has two representatives on the committee which then decided the strongest team based on their performance profiles.
So the British Surfing Team has affiliations with all four governing bodies?
Yes, all four have equal representation on the BSurf committee.
Now, the Olympic qualification process will see a mix of surfers from the WSL’s CT and the ISA World Games, which means, the top placed men and women from the British Surfing Team will qualify for the Olympics – do you have an aim for where it’s likely we’ll be placed?
Making the Olympic qualification is difficult but certainly not out of the question.
Let's look at it this way, so, the top nations that have surfers in the WSL will fill up their quotas from that tier. Brazil, Australia, USA, Japan, France, South Africa and regardless of how they then do at the ISA World Games, they will have already filled their quota which will leave teams like Britain, Portugal, Spain, Costa Rica and the rest contending for final berths at the 2019 and 2020 World Surfing Games.
Our aim for this year, is to place within the top 10 countries in order to have a good seeding for the 2019 World Games, so that we don’t come across the top ranked countries in the early rounds. That'll improve our chances for advancing to at least a semi-final to get any chance of making the cut.
It's a pretty complicated process, that's for sure – and only 40 places, 20 women and men from across the 206 countries or so that enter the Olympics. It's tough. Talk us through some of the training you've been doing with the team?
I have worked with most the team before and know them all quite well, so I like to take an individual approach focusing on their strengths and areas of improvement.
Mostly, my approach is based on competitive strategy and heat management and having them train to competition specific criteria using specific heat drills and scenarios - an example would be wave selection and wave count.
I’ve worked out that the majority of heat wins come from a wave count of seven waves ridden, less than seven waves indicates being too selective and more than seven is too busy. It’s the Goldilocks effect that works best, just right.
Ideally, with funding and more time, we would have a week-long high performance training camp and follow up with regular monthly weekend camps
This year we have been very fortunate to have a host of professionals offer their skills, such as Jake Birch, who delivers strength and conditioning training to the Olympic rowing team.
He’s been instrumental in helping most of the team when coaching the British team and is preparing valuable routines for the athletes to follow in the lead up to next month's World Games, as we have had such short notice, the aim now is to get them to begin switching over to a competitive mindset and some fine tuning.
All the team have been competing recently, locally and abroad, with good results so we are confident that they are keeping pace with their training and I am in contact with them to receive feedback and offer advice.
Ideally, with funding and more time, we would have a week-long high performance training camp and follow up with regular monthly weekend camps, so hopefully in the future, this can happen, ensuring coaching and mentoring is going to be essential to get British surfing back on the international level.
Have any of the team surfed in Japan before?
None of the team have surfed in Japan before, the contest site at Tahara is similar to Croyde beach really, peaky hollow beach breaks so the surfers should adapt quickly after a few days of warm ups.
That's going to be a hell of a cost to get there – what's the funding like for British Surfing right now?
Yes, it’s a huge cost to get to Japan and it’s all self-funded by the surfers. We do have some limited funding from a few companies but we’re still working on that. At the moment only the Bristol Wave has stepped forward with some help. We need to raise more than £20,000.
We are hoping that Sport England will help at some point but they apparently won’t give funding unless there is a strong chance of medal wins at the Olympics so it is a bit of a Catch 22.
What's the Olympic ambition for the British Surfing Team?
Firstly, we need to get to the World Surfing Games qualifiers but without funding this may not happen. Then we need to achieve nothing less than a top 10 finish, if not higher, to have any chance of making the cut.
I can’t imagine how stoked the surfers would be to make it and it would be incredible for British surfing. If they made the focus a medal placing... again I strongly feel that is possible. If we make the cut, the funding and resources would surely begin to pour down.
Would you like to see the Olympics in a wave pool or the ocean? How do you train for both?
Ah the big question! Yes, wave pool, for sure, it suits the stadium concept of the Olympics and guarantees quality waves, schedules and broadcasting will be set and people will know when to tune in to watch or attend certain heats.
Yes, wave pool, for sure, it suits the stadium concept of the Olympics and guarantees quality waves
Training for an event in a pool would allow the focus to move more to technique training. The same criteria as the WSL but without having the bother of priority, wave selection, heat management, paddling around the lineup and... no sharks [laughs].
What do you think of surfing being in the Olympics? Will it hopefully open up more avenues for funding surfing and training opportunities?
Personally, I think it is great for surfing and for surfers who understand surfing and how competition works.
The general public may not get it until it’s all in pools and they don’t have to watch two surfers bobbing around the ocean doing nothing. But when it goes to wave pools, they will begin to get it, then it will go crazy.
Once the public understands surfing then I think they will also tune into the WSL live feeds and grow the numbers. That’s when surfing will become more of a sport and be accessible to anyone, anywhere, as long as it is affordable and accessible to any kid who wants to give it a go.
Big sport brings big money so the opportunities will be in line. And it would be cool to watch two teams competing against each other similar to the football and other formats.
At the end of the day though, surfing will still retain its true form as an art and no pool will ever beat surfing in the sea.
Support the team, HERE.
Cover shot of Reubyn Ash by Jason Yeoman.