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

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?

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

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.

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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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‘All lights green’ for Paris Olympics opening ceremony on River Seine

Organisers of the 2024 Paris Olympics intend to press ahead with an ambitious opening ceremony on the river Seine despite security concerns, a senior official said on Wednesday.

'All lights green' for Paris Olympics opening ceremony on River Seine

“All the lights are green to organise this ceremony in good security conditions,” an aide to President Emmanuel Macron told reporters ahead of a top-level meeting to discuss preparations.

There had “never been a question” of abandoning the idea which was first announced by Macron himself, the aide added.

The French president is to chair a meeting with ministers, security forces, sports officials and the heads of Paris local authorities on Thursday to review the plans.

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The opening ceremony on July 26th, 2024, is not set to take place as is customary in the athletics stadium, but be celebrated with a flotilla down the river Seine.

The original plan was for an armada of 200 boats and some 600,000 spectators, but organisers are under pressure to scale down these ambitions.

Paris’ Olympics also face financial pressure, with the cost of energy and inflation rising sharply and Macron insisting “the Games must finance the Games.”

The aide confirmed that France was still discussing with the International Olympic Committee “if savings could be made” on some events and sites.

Paris was aiming to be the most energy-efficient and cost-effective possible, creating a “new model” for the competition, the aide added.

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