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Extreme Exposure: The other side of Olympic inclusion for surf, skate and climbing

There could be drawbacks to the addition of extreme sports to the 2020 Olympics, as skating, surfing and climbing all come with their own complications.
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In this week's edition of Extreme Exposure—a weekly column featuring news and photography from the world of action and outdoor sports—Vail Resorts buys Whistler Blackomb.

Potential Pitfalls of Surfing, Skating and Climbing

As athletes get down to business this week at the Summer Olympics in Rio, officials from several non-traditional sports received word that their pursuits had been voted in by the IOC for Olympic inclusion in Japan for the 2020 Games. Surfing, skateboarding and climbing all made the cut. Inclusion in the world’s biggest sporting event can have positive effects like better exposure for athletes, bigger sponsorship packages thanks to that exposure and better understanding of these often-obscure sports. But it can also have negative impacts, like a splitting of the sports between the core and the formatted version that appears in the Olympics, as Finnish pro snowboarder Antti Autti wrote last week.

And then there are the venues. While skating and climbing have controlled venues where officials can essentially manicure the playing field, surfing has to deal with the whims of Mother Nature, which proved problematic when surfing was included in X Games competition years ago. For the sport to look its best, the World Surf League uses nearly month-long windows to make a call on an event to utilize the best swell opportunities. In a controlled two-week event like the Olympics, the flexibility just isn’t there so surfers are forced to deal with conditions on hand, which as we’ve seen with events like the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, Calif., doesn’t always play out the best for the sport’s aesthetic. One solution would be a wave pool, as Kelly Slater suggested in an interview with Graham Bensinger in March.  

I think a wave pool in Japan makes a lot of sense,” he said. “You can have exact start times and you know how to control your field. It would be really interesting if a wave pool was a way to display surfing the first time in the Olympics.”  Right now, the event is scheduled to be held at Shidashita Beach in Chiba, Japan, selected by the International Surfing Association because of its statistical likelihood to pull in Typhoon swell during the Olympic schedule between July 24 and August 9. By the way, Slater, who’ll be 48 in 2020, also said he’d be up for competing in the games if selected.

In the Real Climbing World, Van Life Is The Reality

Since climbing made the Olympic cut, hopefully NBC producers come up with some vignettes like this to show the reality of the sport during the 2020 broadcast. Most core climbers are living out of the backs of trucks and beat up cars so they can be on rock every waking moment. And if they’re really lucky, they’re living in kitted-out vans like world-class climber Alex Honnold. “I’ve never been particularly motivated to live in a car,” he says. “(And) it’s not that I love van living, but I love climbing and the van is the most comfortable way to climb all the time.” The true reality of the sport.

Surfing Behind a Hot Air Balloon

I gotta admit, the stunts in the realm of action and outdoor sports just keep getting weirder. Like when Carsten Kurmis recently swapped out his kite in his kite-surfing for a hot air balloon, which he used to traverse the waters of Lake Tegernsee in the Bavaria region of Germany. And while the stunt is slightly bizarre, it sure made for good visuals.

Vail Resorts to Buy Whistler-Blackomb

In a statement released today, Vail Resorts announced that it will purchase Whistler Blackomb for $1.04 billion. Whistler Blackomb’s CEO Dave Brownlie said the move comes as the resort has been “monitoring the unique challenges facing the broader ski industry due to the unpredictability of year-to-year regional weather patterns,” and that the purchase by Vail secures the resort’s future. One member of the Whistler Blackomb board will reportedly serve on the Vail Resorts board moving forward.