2024 Olympics surfing competitions in Tahiti raise environmental concerns

After months of protests from the local community, supported by the International Surfing Federation, efforts have been made to contain the damage; however, the reef could still be harmed.

Surfing, like sport climbing, became a full-fledged part of the Olympic program at the Tokyo 2020 Games. Thus, the surfing competitions for the 2024 Paris Olympics will take place in the waters surrounding the island of Tahiti (a staggering 15,700 kilometers from the City of Light), in French Polynesia, precisely off the village of Teahupo’o, home to about 1,500 inhabitants, located on the southwest coast of the island. Despite protests from residents, supported by the International Surfing Federation, an aluminum tower has been erected to accommodate judges during the competitions – as the waves for the competitions are about 400 meters offshore. But things could have been much worse.

Teahupo’o is famous for its spectacular yet dangerous waves, owing to the short distance between the water surface and the reef, which, due to this characteristic, was already damaged during construction due to an accidental collision with a barge. This location usually hosts international surfing competitions, with judges typically stationed on a wooden platform that is assembled and disassembled. The issue is that during the Olympics, up to 40 people (including television operators, for example) may need to be accommodated on the platform, compared to the usual 10-20, hence the apparent need for an aluminum structure, which should still be dismantled at the end of the Olympics.

Beyond the tower, the Olympics have posed several environmental challenges, such as accommodation for the 48 surfers and their staff. As that part of the island was not equipped to accommodate so many people, initial plans included permanent infrastructure, an Olympic village, a hotel, and even a bridge to allow cars to reach Teahupo’o. After much debate, it was ultimately decided to house all these people on a cruise ship, which, however, due to the need to keep the engines running constantly, will have a significant impact on an already fragile ecosystem, that of the reef.

The cover image is a screenshot from Tim McKenna's Instagram video.

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