Could a German Olympic bid rekindle the wave pool vs ocean debate?

The once scorching debate of whether the Olympics should be held in the ocean or a wave pool has been dead for years. Comment sections and social media posts have long been deprived of the engagement-baiting, opinionated, and divisive arguments surrounding that subject.

However, due to a new development, the comments section on your favorite surf platform could re-ignited shortly.

The German Olympic Sports Confederation (AKA Germany’s National Olympic Committee) “will this week launch a series of online discussions which officials hope will help boost a future German Olympic bid,” according to Inside the Games – a site dedicated to world sport.

The potential German bid could come as soon as the 2036 Summer Games, which is the next available edition. Although, they also would be interested in 2040 as well as the Winter Games of 2038 or 2042.

After the Tokyo 2020 Olympics went surprisingly well in the ocean despite widespread criticism and a rushed attempt by the WSL to build a pool near the venue, the Olympic wave pool debate lost steam.

Additionally, the IOC awarded the 2024, 2028, and 2032 Games to cities and nations with solid ocean surfing traditions – Tahiti via Paris, Los Angeles, and Brisbane, respectively. Since then not a peep has been heard from the chlorine wave Olympic enthusiasts. 

Surf ERA Berlin, not even built yet, could be hosting the Olympics as Germany has started discussions to bring the 2036 Summer Olympics home. By that time, the wave pool offering in Europe’s strongest economy will be quite substantial.

However, a 2036 Summer Olympics in Germany would certainly revive the debate.

Germany’s only beaches in the North and Baltic seas would surely be discarded as venue options at the organizers’ first staff meeting. And unlike France, Germany does not have an array of tropical former colonies with picture-perfect reef passes.

A German Olympics would have to either look for a solution within, like a wave pool, or break precedent and hold the surfing event in an entirely different country. 

Allowing one sport to leave the confines of a selected host country would add layers of complications as far as funding and organization. One can imagine it’s a precedent that the IOC wouldn’t want to set. (Although the IOC and Paris allowing surfing to be held on an island nearly 10,000 miles away certainly set a radical precedent in its own right.)

Shane Beschen at Citywave Germany
Germany is best known for rapid, or standing wave, surfing which is not yet an Olympic sport.

So, in theory, Germany would have to find a homemade solution.

It’s hard to say what the wave pool landscape will look like 17 years from now. Certainly, the technology will be better than we can currently fathom and new pool locations will exist. But we know that the IOC has every incentive to make the Games more affordable and sustainable, utilizing existing structures as much as possible. Thus, what wave pools in Germany could throw their name in the hat to run the surfing event?

As it stands, there are no functioning wave pools in Germany aside from rapid waves. However, there are three pools in various stages of development across the nation: one Wavegarden Cove being built at Surfgarten in Hamburg and two Endless Surf pools planned at SURF ERA in Berlin and o2 Surftown MUC in Munich. The pool in Hamburg says they are breaking ground soon whereas the pool in Berlin still has no provisional launch date. The Munich site began construction in 2022 and has made huge progress, expecting to test waves this year followed by an official opening in 2024.

o2 SURFTOWN MUC, The wave pool in Munich that will feature Endless Surf technology, will open to the public in 2024.

It’s still quite early to speculate about Germany’s bid, or assume that they would win among several competitors. Mexico has already entered a bid for 2036 and Qatar is eager to host the Games as well.

Whether it’s in Germany, Qatar, Mexico, or another country, it’s safe to say the wave pool debate is not over. Perhaps it has just begun.

Pool technology is lightyears more advanced than it was when the ISA first pitched the idea to Tokyo 2020 nearly a decade ago. Plus, there are now proven competitions that have been held in pools. The idea is more realistic and, therefore, the stakes will be higher. Every available wave pool technology would be lobbying, promoting, and fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the technology chosen is theirs.

Regardless, before you get too excited and decide to reactivate the comment section debates, there are still many years left before a host is selected, let alone venues that are confirmed. Anything can happen in a few years’ time. So for now, let’s enjoy Teahupo’o taking center stage at next summer’s Games.