Is Surfing Really a Sport (or just a Pastime), and Why Does this Matter?

Due to COVID-19, the Olympic debut of surfing did not occur in the summer of 2020.  But this year, spectators at the Tokyo Olympics will finally get to see surfers in the water, competing for gold medal glory. While many professional surfers have praised this new contest, others see it as being unnecessary and problematic, potentially leading to more overcrowded line-ups around the world and, in general, continuing recent trends of commercializing the sport. But IS surfing really a sport? In an article assigned for class on 3/30, Brian Blickenstaff notes that many of the best surfers on earth do not enter competitive events organized by the World Surfing League, and that the judging of these competitions has often been seen as subjective and questionable. In addition, there are issues of gender, race, and sexism on tour, and “the clothing and apparel industry that banks on the surfing culture is far, far bigger than the actual professional surfing economy.”  Of course, these issues do not necessarily mean that surfing is not a sport. For this Blogpost, then, I would like you to enter into the fray on this topic, a debate that has been raging in the world of surfing for at least 50 years, and is only intensifying with the Olympics finally upon us. What do you think: IS surfing a sport, or just a fun pastime? In the “sport vs. art” debate, is it true that artistry, the relationship with nature, and individual expression on the waves has taken a back seat to professionalized competition and commercialization? Why do you think the way that you do? And, ultimately, why is this question so important, to “soul surfers” and competitive surfers alike?

18 thoughts on “Is Surfing Really a Sport (or just a Pastime), and Why Does this Matter?

  1. I believe that surfing is a sport. It involves intense competition and has been that way since the sport was first found. This does not mean that people can not just enjoy it as a pastime and a hobby, but much like golf which is a sport, it can be played as both. The connection to nature within surfing has unfortunately taken a backseat to the competitive commercialized sport of surfing. Because of this many surfers who do not surf competitively feel betrayed by other surfers that they are not using the activity for what it was meant to be. I believe that there is no true difference to doing the sport as a connection to nature and as a sport. All surfers are in the water from the connection to nature and the stoked feeling, but things tend to differ with how they use that connection. I believe this because if surfing was created originally only for sport, then people would not be having this argument. It is similar to traditions; people always like to keep the same traditions but overtime you may realize that some traditions need improvement or change. This question is important among competitive surfers and “soul surfers” because as humans we naturally like to divide ourselves into groups and people ultimately want their group to win. In reality surfing is surfing whether it is competitively or not. If you surf competitively then it is a sport for you. If you do not surf competitively then it is just your hobby. As long as there is competition, it is a sport.

  2. I think surfing is a sport because of the multiple surf competitions that happen yearly all around the world. Originally I think surfing was ‘just a fun pastime’ due to it coming from the rich history of the Polynesians. Not every surfer is a competitive surfer as many enjoy the sport just to enjoy it. There’s a competitive nature to the sport more than ever because of how advanced the tricks and skills have gotten over the years. I don’t think anything has truly taken a step back as every surfer interprets the sport differently and each person adds their own flare. I do think surfer has become more commercialized especially when it actually participates in the Olympics because more people will view a ‘surf competition’ but I think the only harm would be the fact that more surfboards would be produced which harms the environment. I think this way cause surfing is both a pastime and a sport and there’s no harm in anyone participating however they decide to. I think this question is important to soul surfers and competitive surfers as they both few the other as an enemy and think that one is doing something wrong.

  3. I do think that surfing is a sport. It requires you to be physically active, which is something a majority of sports do. It can be a fun past time, but so can all other sports. Not everyone plays sport competitively, just like surfing. Surfing competitions have been around for a while, and these show that surfing really is a sport. People are competing in a physical activity to win something, which is basically what all sports are. While I can see why some people are concerned about the sport becoming too commercialized, the same could be said for any sport. All sports have shops and apparel. People sell team jerseys for every sport. A ton of stores also sell the sports equipments, like all the balls for each game, so it’s no different from surfing apparel and gear being sold in stores. To me, I’d want my favorite sport to be more commercialized to get more people involved in it. I think that would be a good thing, not something to be worried about. Plus, if people can consider something like chess a sport, you can definitely consider surfing a sport.

  4. I would for sure say that surfing is a sport. While it can just be something somebody does for fun, it still belongs in the category of a sport. According to, the definition of a sport is “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of competitive nature.” Paddling out into the water and then balancing and riding the waves definitely takes a great deal of skill that not a lot of people find so easy. Especially with it being added to the Olympics which is basically just the biggest sports competition in the world, makes it that much stronger of a point for being in that realm. However, it should be entirely up to each individual surfer for what level they wish to compete at, if any at all. If competitions are something you strive for then absolutely go for it, but if you want to just keep it as an activity that is your decision. Some people may just like to shoot a basketball around as a pastime but basketball would still be considered a sport then so why can’t surfing? I can relate to this topic because as a dancer, many are unsure of whether that is considered a sport or an art, but I definitely like to say that it’s both with all of the elements involved in it. People surf to get that stoke experience so if that means for you just enjoying your time with nature and the water or competing to be the best, so be it. Surfing deserves to be considered as a sport, whether it’s just the competition or a hobby for you.

  5. Personally, I believe that surfing is both a sport and a past time. I think you can compare it to many different sports such as soccer, golf, etc. If you and your friends go to the soccer field to kick a ball around or go to a golf course to just play around, you are doing this for fun. You aren’t necessarily going for competition, but if you enter a tournament you are deciding to be competitive. According to the Oxford Dictionary, surfing can be defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” (Oxford Dictionary) Surfing requires athleticism, balance, strength and much more which all fall under physical exertion. I feel as too often you have the people who are overly passionate about sports which is inevitable. People should just enjoy surfing however they like it, whether that be just going out to catch waves with your friends or entering a surf tournament to be the best surfer.

  6. Throughout surf history, the question of whether surfing is an art form or a sport has been widely debated. Although I am not a surfer, I believe that the input of an outsider can sometimes be helpful. From a bystander’s perspective, I would say that most people would argue that surfing is only a sport. However, I believe that surfing is truly not one or the other. For most of my life, I have been a competitive dancer, which I grew to love as both an art form and a sport. Many might say that it is impossible for surfing to be both at the same time, but the level of passion towards the actual artistry of surfing is where the two aspects can become one. As someone who has completed an art form, I mainly focused on my own connection to the sport and the artistry within, rather than winning. There are thousands of surfers that compete that still believe in the artistry and connection of the sport itself. Surfing itself is too broad to place a singular label on it. There are surfers who truly believe in the stoke and feel a spiritual connection to the earth and waves. Others live to compete and perfect their skills for fame and fortune. In my opinion, surfers are the ones who decide whether they are artists or athletes.

  7. Surfing is certainly a sport. By definition, surfing is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment” (Google). Surfing definitely requires a lot of physical exertion in most cases unless you are taken out by boat or using a propulsion device. As well as this, there are many competitions and people have been competing in the waves since surfing began whether it be for prizes or social status. In modern day society, competition and the commercialization of surf has largely taken over. I think a good example is the movie “Soul Surfer”. While the movie does contain some spiritual aspects in it, they could not keep out the competition aspect that the sport brings, as well as the commercial gain and attention it brings. While surfing is a sport, it can and should be enjoyed. Just as any other sport, surfing should be done for fun. If there is no fun, then waht is the point after all?

  8. I believe that surfing could be whatever you want it to be. Surfing can be a sport while others just simply do it for relaxation. In my opinion, though surfing is a sport. Surfing is a sport that requires being in great shape. Being able to paddle out, carve the waves, and balance on the waves. There are surfing competitions which are very competitive and the best are able to win trophies. There is so much training that goes into surfing from breathing techniques to balance. All that training transitions to the competition which is what the surfer has prepared for most of his life.
    Since surfing is now being open to the Olympics it will work similarly. Major surfers will be selected from the World Surfing League and other competitions. The countries will send their best athletes to compete with other countries across the world. Training just as hard as they would for competitions. If surfing can have its own surfing league then surfing should be in the Olympics.
    This question is important to soul surfers because to them surfing would no longer be something that comes from the soul and is something that is relaxing. It, not something that is considered fun anymore to them it more of something that is aggressive. That often results in fights and is no longer fun. It is not something that is fun and brings people together in happiness but more so for greed and wanting to become the best surfer. There will always be a part of even the competitive surfer where the soul is surfing is still alive and brings joy even to the Olympic level. Surfing as a sport can still show the artistic side and the beauty of nature of one connecting to the wave. Personally, that is how I view surfing.

  9. I strongly believe that surfing is a sport for some people and a pastime for others. Surfing requires great physically strengthen as well as almost every other sport. It can take a toll on the body for most high level surfer and they must be in shape to do it. Surfing competitions show how much of a sport it really is. It takes great skill to be able to twist and turn sharp corners on a wave while not falling off. It also takes hours of practice and these surfer are constantly training. Just like every athlete in any other sport they must train everyday to be successful at something. These high level surfers all have the same goal and that is to win which makes it no different from other sports. But in surfing there are regulars who don’t like to compete but just surf for the fun of it. I would consider surfing a pastime for people like this. Many people like to go out on a nice day and catch a few small waves for the fun of it. Me personally I don’t see a problem with this but I would consider myself as a competitor. If I were to surf I would want to do it competetivly because I like to play to win. Either way I think that suffering should be considered both because not everyone surfs for the same reason.

  10. I believe that surfing is a sport and should be in the Olympics. A lot of people have a problem with surfing be in the Olympics and I totally understand why. When surfing was first discovered on Hawaii, it was a cultural and religious activity. Through out the years it has grown to be just a leisure activity for those interested. However, since it is considered a sport in my eyes, I also believe that it should be in the Olympics. The reason is because there are many people who work so hard to get better at surfing that there should be some kind of professional contest. Although there are many people who take surfing seriously, there are plenty of people that just surf for fun just like any sport.

  11. Surfing is 100% a sport. A sport is simply defined as any type of competition in which competitors compete. Other well known sports such as soccer can also be used as a past time. Surfing follows sports like soccer and football by the idea that it is a sport but can also be performed as a past time. Also, considering surfing is involved in the olympics I’m not sure why people debate whether or not it is a sport… of people compete on the worlds most competitive platform I can’t see why people could disagree that is is a sport. People dedicate they’re lives , to claim that it isn’t a sport is just wrong and absurd.

  12. I don’t think it really matters to much either way. we talked about the stoke of surfing in the beginning of the year, and in my opinion the stoke is different for everyone so we should let it be just that. If you enjoy surfing as a leisure activity or a sport as long as you’re having fun and enjoying yourself, while not taking away from anyone else’s fun does it really matter. I understand that people say that it will crowd line ups but I kinda disagree. its not like people that live near the ocean In America don’t already know about surfing, so all the sudden cause its in the olympics everyones gonna try it. also to people that would say its taking something away from what the sport was, its not like ancient Polynesians didn’t also have competitions in the waves.

  13. I believe that surfing is most deffinetley a sport. To start, the definition of a sport is an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. Surfing falls under all of those categories and requires an extreme skill set to become a professional surfer. Surfing is not easy and due to the fact that you must train and practice to better yourself as a rider is also one reason why it is a sport. These surfers give there all to be the best and to show out for there fans and people whom look up to them. Surfing is a huge sport around the world and there athletes have a huge following. Surfing is deffenitley a individual sport that shows the skill set and determination that each rider has to be a professional in there desired sport of surfing.

  14. I strongly believe that is surfing is a combination of both. Even though the question asks which do believe it is more, I think it really depends on who you are and why you are doing it. It is definitely considered a sport in the sense that it is in the Olympics and has multiple pro leagues with millions of dollars in it, along with high school levels where there are competitions and even clubs in college. So in that regard it is a sport, but there are many others that are doing it for fun, to pass time, or to relieve stress and these people are not doing it for sport, but for the art of surfing. These people are doing it for the beauty of surfing and to clear their head, not for prizes or money. So overall, it really depends on who you are and why you surf on whether it is a sport or art.

  15. I definitely believe that surfing is a sport. I believe this because it takes an immense amount of skill and finesse to be very good at surfing. Many believe that surfing is only considered a hobby and an activity that people do for fun. Although, I don’t think that is an accurate view on surfing, and the advanced surfing community. Surfers compete at many different levels and I believe that because of their competitiveness surfing is considered a sport. I believe that surfing now being open to the Olympics is a very large step forward in considering surfing a sport. It shows that surfing can be highly competitive and shows how difficult it can be as well.

  16. I absolutely think that surfing is considered a sport for some people. Big wave surfers around the world risk their lives on enormous monstrous waves which require years of training and practice. However for others it is seen more of pastime. Pastime surfers enjoy being on the water and having fun on the waves. Sport or pastime, surfing requires great physical strength and balance. Surfing competitions visualize how much of a sport surfing really is. It takes hours of practice to develop skill to be able to master tricks and carves on a wave while not falling off. Pro surfers are constantly spending hours on end in the water perfecting their craft for competitions. Just like every athlete in any other sport they must train more than most to be successful. High level surfers like Kelly Slater and John John Florence all have the same drive which is to win, it makes it no different from other sports. I would consider surfing more of a pastime personally, However like everything people constantly want to push the bar and be the absolute best at that activity. I enjoy surfing because I like being on the water with my friends and thrive off a good day in the sun. I have no issue with competitive surfing, I love watching surfing and seeing how much these pros can push the limits. Even as a pastime surfer I look up to the pros even if I’ll never get there one day.

  17. I do believe that surfing is a very intense and serious sport. It is advertised as a way to relax and have fun, and it is, but in surf culture itself it is known as a competition. Athletes all over the world surf day and night competitively in competitions as serious as the Olympics. If I were to ever become a surfer, I would genuinely go for a fun time and a way to get some exercise, it can be whatever we make it to be, but known more as a sport.

  18. I believe as if surfing is a sport. I think that surfing requires a ton of techniques and training in order to be able to successfully ride waves. Surfing can also be used for relaxation for people that do not want to do it competitively, but I feel as if that is the same with any other sport. There is a lot of skill and knowledge that goes into surfing and I do not think it has to be considered a sport or pastime. It varies with each person. I do not think that the expression with waves or the relationship with nature has taken a back seat for surfers. I feel this because every surfer does things differently and they put their own flair into what and how they ride waves. Soul surfers like to surf for enjoyment and they believe that competitions may strip surfers from having fun because they are simply just trying to be the best. I understand where they are coming from but I think that people each have their own preferences on what they want to do with surfing, and they should be allowed to do so.

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