(ATR) Fernando Aguerre grabs his snorkel and flippers and hops into the sparkling, crystal-clear Fijian waters. The 22-year leader of the International Surfing Association, accompanied by two of his vice-presidents, one paddling a longboard, takes off on a leisurely, aquatic business trip.
The ISA president swims around to the numerous team boats gathered at the Cloudbreak surfing hotspot, a venue at sea for the 2016 Fiji World Stand-Up Paddling and Paddleboard Championship.
Aguerre, 58, enthusiastically greets athletes, coaches and guests aboard the boats, joking, sharing anecdotes and talking up the merits of SUP, the world’s fastest growing water sport.
Aguerre tells Around the Rings in Fiji that he believes Stand-Up Paddling offers all of the attributes that the IOC is seeking in a new Olympic sport discipline.
“First, is the true universality of the sport – it’s an important part of the Olympic movement and SUP has that,” Aguerre said. “Then it is a sport that offers a huge amount of recreational activity and that also creates a lot of fans. Certainly, a lot of people have embraced it.”
Twenty-six national SUP teams are represented in Fiji, including non-traditional surfing nations like India, Ireland, Denmark, Slovenia, Switzerland and Sweden.
Aguerre and ISA are thrilled that the sport finally attained Olympic status in August after numerous failed attempts. However, they are not done yet. Their latest mission involves convincing the IOC to accept SUP – which was developed by legendary surfer Laird Hamilton between catching waves – into the 2024 Games.
“Very much like surfing brings to the Games, we bring a lifestyle, we bring a culture,” Aguerre said of SUP. “We’re presenting the sport as part of the culture of surfing and I think this is really what a division of the IOC and ISA wants.”
Surfing and Stand-Up Paddling have been accepted into the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where eight medal events will be contested. Surfing and SUP racing will also be on the program at the inaugural World Beach Games in San Diego in 2019.
Dane Practices What He Preaches
Casper Steinfath of Denmark won gold in the men’s SUP technical race on Wednesday, catching a wave down the homestretch to distance himself from his competitors. Also serving as an ISA vice-president, Steinfath is one of the most ardent supporters of the relatively new surf discipline.
“The growth of SUP paddling is not just the world championships, it’s happening in many lands and on ponds through clubs all around the world,” Steinfath said.
“We’re going to get a lot of attention and break some barriers this week. People think of Fiji for surfing and now we’re showing off with SUP surfing and racing.”
SUP events in surfing, technical and distance races, as well as paddleboard races comprise the nine-day program which runs through Nov. 20.
Aguerre points out that Stand-Up Paddling will be part of a presentation when surfing makes its Olympic debut at Chiba Prefecture, in Tokyo 2020.
“It’s not going to be a competition, but we’re going to bring athletes, instructors and coaches to teach the sport,” Aguerre said.
Bringing passion, persistence and a creative flair, Aguerre deserves much of the credit for surfing’s newfound Olympic status. He has also helped to grow the ISA to 100 member nations. The Cook Islands and Sierre Leone are the latest to join the federation.
“Fernando has pushed this Olympic project for many years – it’s a new time for surfing and he has built this future,” said French surfing federation president Jean-Luc Arassure. “Surfing in the Olympics is really a good present.”
As a surfer who grew up in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Aguerre opposed the Argentine government for the sport he loves. A military dictatorship took over Argentina in 1976 and they outlawed surfing.
“Anyone caught surfing had their board confiscated and they spent the night in jail,” Aguerre said.
Aguerre fought for surfing freedom in his homeland, creating Argentina’s first national surfing association and promoting the sport.
“Through our efforts we were able to convince the government to lift the ban,” he said. “This experience shaped my life and convinced me early on that everybody deserves the right to enjoy the ocean and its waves.”
Epic Stage on Cloudbreak
International Surfing Association officials moved the final round of the SUP surfing event at Cloudbreak from Tuesday to Saturday, setting up what could be an unprecedented finale for the signature event of the championship.
Lack of sufficient waves on Tuesday and a forecast for inspiring three-meter high waves at fifteen-second intervals on Saturday tipped the decision.
As the SUP surfers are saying: “It will be epic.” Aguerre agrees.
“It could be the largest waves at any SUP world championship in history,” said the surfing chief. “This will be like moving go-carts to a Formula One racetrack. You will see SUP surfing raised to a new level.”
Aguerre emphasizes that safety is paramount. There will be four wave-runners shadowing the four surfers in each heat. Fijian wave experts will be positioned nearby.
Live competition can be seen daily via livestream at www.isaworlds.com.
Written by Brian Pinelli in Fiji.
The International Surfing Association (ISA), founded in 1964, is recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the World Governing Authority for Surfing, StandUp Paddle (SUP) Racing and Surfing, Bodysurfing, Wakesurfing, and all other wave riding activities on any type of waves, and on flat water using wave riding equipment. The ISA crowned its first Men’s and Women’s World Champions in 1964. It crowned the first Big Wave World Champion in 1965; World Junior Champion in 1980; World Kneeboard Champions in 1982; World Longboard Surfing and World Bodyboard Champions in 1988; World Tandem Surfing Champions in 2006; World Masters Champions in 2007; and World StandUp Paddle (SUP) and Paddleboard Champions in 2012.
ISA membership includes the surfing National Governing Bodies of 100 countries on five continents. Its headquarters are located in La Jolla, California. It is presided over by Fernando Aguerre (Argentina), first elected President in 1994 in Rio de Janeiro. The ISA’s four Vice-Presidents are Karín Sierralta (PER), Kirsty Coventry (ZIM), Casper Steinfath (DEN) and Barbara Kendall (NZL).