Water Sports: OK, But Do They Have Guys Named Corky?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, October 1996

Water Sports: OK, But Do They Have Guys Named Corky?

At the World Surfing Games, winter-addled nations look to join the tribe
By Jon Cohen

"Usually we just sit around and watch surf videos and think about waves." Sound like the words of your average southern California teenager? Well, yes, but in this case the speaker is Reimer S. Hansen, president of the Danish Surfing Association, explaining how he and the other elite members of Denmark's national team will psych themselves up to battle such surfing powers as the United States, Australia, and South Africa this month in the sport's biggest-ever Olympic-style event.

True, Denmark isn't known for spawning world-class wave-carvers. But for nine days beginning on the fifth, it will band together with Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and 33 better surf-endowed countries for the World Surfing Games, a contest in Huntington Beach, California, aimed at convincing the IOC that surfing deserves a slot in Sydney in 2000.

While it does seem a stretch to have Danes and Swiss going up against the kings of Hawaiian wave-riding, at least they aren't lacking for competitive fire. "To be honest, we don't have a chance," admits Hansen, who trains in the bone-chilling surf off Copenhagen. "None of us has ever actually competed before. But we'll be happy if we can just beat Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland." Not so fast, retorts Swiss surfer Philippe Buttet, proving that the battle for 33d place will be as heated as that for first. "We have international experience," notes Buttet, whose team rides red boards patterned after the Swiss Army knives of sponsor Victorinox. "And typically, we surf in France."

Such rivalry is, of course, the stuff of Olympic dreams--and embodies just the level of fervor that International Surfing Association chairman Fernando Aguerre wants to see. "We're trying to give surfing the recognition it deserves," says Aguerre, who notes that the IOC has promised to send a representative to the meet. "And clearly, our strongest suit is our spirit. We are a tribe. We have a culture. We're very, very inspiring for other human beings."

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