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Yay or nay on the prospect of Trestles becoming the Olympic surf venue for the L.A. Games

By Jake Howard

The Olympic Games are slated to land in Los Angeles in 2028, and with surfing now officially on the program, the question is where are they going to hold the competition?

Some say it has to be at Malibu, given the iconic right-point’s proximity to the heart of L.A. Others have speculated that Huntington Beach makes the most sense, since it regularly hosts the U.S. Open and has the infrastructure to handle large crowds.

Then there are those who reckon Lowers is a no-brainer. It’s a high-quality, high-performance consistent summertime wave, which by then will have seen WSL world champions crowned on the cobblestones in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Rip Curl and the WSL are in the midst of a three-year agreement.

But let’s back up a little and talk about what having something like the Olympics in our backyard would mean from a surf tourism and economic standpoint.

Last week, the market research company Global Industry Analysts released a report forecasting that the global surf market will grow to an eye-popping $3.1 billion by 2026—that’s two years before the L.A. Summer Games. 

The report, entitled “Surfing: Global Market Trajectory & Analytics,” goes on to say that the “surfing market in the U.S. is estimated at $1.2 billion in the year 2022.”

This comes while Dana Point is about to kick off a $400 million harbor renovation and putting renewed focus on its storied surfing tradition. And down the road, the U.S. Board Riders National Championships are coming to Lowers on April 21-22, while the Rip Curl WSL Finals will be contested this September.

From Salt Creek, to Doheny and all way to Trestles and San Onofre, there’s a lot of energy and opportunity in our local waters.

San Clemente’s Kolohe Andino rocks the red, white and blue while competing in surfing’s Olympic debut in Japan last year. Photo: Courtesy of Sean Evans/ISA

Meanwhile, according to a 2007 economic impact study by Surfrider’s Chad Nelson, surfers annually spent $8 million to $12 million in San Clemente when coming to surf Trestles. Fifteen years since the study was published, and that number has to be considerably larger today, especially given the “COVID bounce” that the surf business has enjoyed over the past couple of years.

Anecdotal reports from contacts at some of the major surf brands, as well as surfboard manufacturers, all indicate that the surf business is pretty much booming right now, especially hard goods.

Wetsuits and surfboards have been highly sought after the past couple of years because of a sizable increase in participation. (What else was everyone around here supposed to do when the rest of the world shut down?)

Because of slowdowns at the ports, wetsuit shipments coming to the West Coast from Asia have meant that supply remains low, while demand is up. Meanwhile, area surfboard factories can only crank out so many boards a day. Custom orders aren’t able to be turned around nearly as quickly as they once were, leaving limited selection on most surf shop racks.

The argument that surf industry insiders have long made about surfing’s inclusion in the Olympics is that it would help “grow the pond” and attract new participants. I would contend that the pandemic, coupled with an effort to increase inclusion and diversity, has had way more of an impact.

That’s not to say surfing’s Olympic debut in Japan in 2021 didn’t reverberate around the world, but the nuanced competitive format wasn’t exactly fan-friendly for the casual observer.

Plus, the Olympics is hardly the cash cow it’s often thought to be. According to an Oxford University report cited by the New York Times, “every Olympics since 1960 has run over budget, at an average of 172% in inflation-adjusted terms.”

According to the financial services company ACE, Brazil had a $14 billion budget for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro but ended up spending an estimated $20 billion, while Russia started with a $10.3 billion budget for the Sochi Games in 2014 but ended up spending more than $51 billion.

So, with the surf industry humming and plenty of good things already happening in our local waters, would the 2028 Olympics coming to Trestles be a good thing or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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