By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Paddle surfers could yet be racing for gold medals down the River Seine at the 2024 Olympics if a row over who controls the sport is resolved soon, the head of the Association of Paddlesurf Professionals (APP) believes.
The International Surfing Association (ISA) and the International Canoe Federation (ICF) both claim it and last year placed their dispute over the running of the booming sport into the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
“We are waiting to see what happens with the CAS arbitration which is unfortunate for everybody,” APP chief executive Tristan Boxford, a former professional windsurfer, told Reuters in an interview at a World Tour race on the River Thames on Saturday.
“Now we are late for Paris but it’s still possible. I was in Lausanne the other day and I had a good conversation with the (International Olympic Committee) guys there who said it was still possible to get this resolved and we could get fast-tracked to Paris.
“They love the idea of it, from what I understand they love the younger feel. If they had the opportunity to have the world’s best stand-up paddlers battling it out down the River Seine it would be fantastic.”
It is easy to see why a dispute arose as the sport has elements of surfing and kayaking, with participants standing on a board propelling themselves forward with a paddle which, according to the ICF, means it should fall under its auspices.
Paddle boarding evolved from surfing in Hawaii in the 1960s but its recent boom has centred on stand-up paddling (SUP) with both disciplines part of the AAP’s World Tour since 2012.
Racing can be over a sprint distance or much longer, such as the 13.5-km season-opener that saw the world’s top 20 men and women compete in the London SUP Open from the iconic Tower Bridge to Putney Bridge on Saturday.
Other stop-offs include San Francisco and New York.
Boxford said that the appeal of stand-up paddling lay in its accessibility, relative ease to learn and the fact that it could be enjoyed on rivers, lakes, oceans and even inner-city canals.
He said 850 paddle surfers took part in an event in Paris on a freezing cold morning last winter.
“It started off as a surfing sport but people realised that there was something in between, where a traditional surfing sport could be practised anywhere there is water,” he said.
“The light bulb kind of went on and we saw the potential of racing and then we launched the World Tour in 2012.”
With the rise in popularity of the sport showing no sign of slowing down, Boxford said it was frustrating that its progress had hit choppy waters with the ownership dispute.
“Suddenly the ICF came and saw an opportunity with stand-up paddling grabbing everyone’s attention,” he said.
“They have had sports that have been around for a long time but are not necessarily growing and then they saw a sport that is growing exponentially and saw an opportunity, which I understand, because it’s a business opportunity.
“But the athletes are the losers because there is confusion.”
Last year the ICF’s attempt to host a Stand-Up Paddling world championships in Portugal was scuppered, but it will stage the event this October on China’s Yellow Sea Coast.
“It’s unfortunate because the sport is young, there is not that much money in it and this dilutes the message and spreads the athletes,” Boxford said of the ICF’s competition.
“They are tired of it and want this resolved.”
The ICF were unavailable for comment on Saturday.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)