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Reader Question: Why is the Paris Olympic surfing in Tahiti?

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Reader Question: Why is the Paris Olympic surfing in Tahiti?
A surfer rides a huge wave at Teahupo’o. (Photo: Tim McKenna / AFP)

Map enthusiasts will note that Tahiti is not very near Paris, in fact it's more than 15,000km away, so why will the 2024 Paris Olympics surfing competition be held there?


Question: I understand that not all Olympic events are held in the host city itself - sailing for example - but why is the surfing for the 2024 Games being held in Tahiti? That's hardly the nearest place to Paris that has waves!

The 2024 Olympic Games in Paris are less than two years away - you may have seen the recent video that went viral on social media. 


Most events will take place in and around Paris. Stade de France, in Saint-Denis, is the main venue, with Roland Garros and La Defense Arena also hosting competitions, as well as city locations like the Champ-de-Mars and Place de la Concorde. 

Equestrian events will take place in the opulent surroundings of Versailles, just outside the city.


According to Organising Committee for the Olympic Games chairman Tony Estanguet: “80 percent of venues will be within 30 minutes of the Olympic Village, and 24 sports in a 10km radius around the Village”. 

Some sports will, however, take place elsewhere. Sailing competitions will be held in Marseille for obvious, practical reasons. Rowing events are in Vaires-sur-Marne. Lille has won the right to host the handball competitions, while some football matches will take place at stadia outside the capital.

But the surfing events have set a new record for Olympic venues. They will be held 15,716km away from host city Paris, in the seas off Teahupo’o, Tahiti.

This location is French, it's part of French Polynesia and France's overseas territories - which exist in the Pacific, Indian Ocean, Caribbean and elsewhere - are considered as much a part of France as Brittany, Corsica and Marseille.

READ ALSO 'Confetti of an empire' - France's overseas territories

But no Olympic medal competition has been held so far away from the host city - though the 1956 Melbourne Games’ equestrian events come close. Because of Australian quarantine laws at the time, the equestrian competition was held some 15,589km away, in Stockholm, Sweden, five months before those Games officially opened.

Despite this precedent, the Paris 2024 board needed approval from the International Olympic Committee to host the event so far from the city.

There is good reason for this latest decision, beyond the fact Teahupo’o is a go-to location for serious surfers. 

Paris was, clearly, out as an option and while France does have high quality locations along the Atlantic coast - Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche were all considered - the level of surf is far from guaranteed when the Games take place in July and August.

There is no such problem with the surf in Tahiti, where the strongest swells are between April and October. This is the level of challenge competitors are likely to face at the venue known as “The Wall of Skulls”.


It's a very different board game to the inaugural Olympic surfing competition in Japan, where the surf was much smaller at Shidashita, 40km east of Tokyo, as the sport aims to become a permanent fixture at the games.

The choice of venue for 2024 had “overwhelming support” from the International Surfing Association (ISA) when it was confirmed in 2020. 


At the time, Chair of the ISA Athletes' Commission Justine Dupont said: "As an athlete there is no greater achievement than competing at the Olympic Games and amongst the surfers there is huge excitement about Paris 2024, especially with Tahiti as the location.

"In surfing, Teahupo'o is a sacred place, rich in history and tradition and, without a doubt, one of the most exciting, consistent waves in the world for our sport."

Tahiti and Polynesia in general has its own rich surfing culture that easily pre-dates French involvement in the area, the English explorer Captain James Cook visited Tahiti in the 1770s and produced what is believed to be the first written description of surfing after observing the locals enjoying the activity.



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