June 28, 2023
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

The Empire Strikes Back: ISA announces France/Denmark as 2023/24 World Championship hosts

photo above: Connor and Casper lead Mo, Lincoln and Daniel at the 2017 ISA Worlds in Denmark

The International Surfing Association (ISA) has confirmed France and Denmark as respective hosts of the 2023 and 2024 World Championships, striking back after several years in the Outer Rim to show the intergalactic SUP community they actually kind of still give a damn and that the canoe boys can be damned — surfers parrying the severe blows landed by an aggressive but now-suddenly-tiring International Canoe Federation (ICF) with a stylish, two-year combination of manoeuvres that will surely score in the excellent range as far as participation and logistics are concerned.

And while announcing a last-minute world championship – it’s less than three months ’til the event begins on 24 September – won’t make preparations easy for team selections, flights or baguettes, the ISA has countered their tardiness by also confirming that the 2024 event will return to Copenhagen, Denmark next September in a mirror of the 2017 Worlds that was surely a high-water mark for the federation. This is the first time the ISA has ever announced the next two hosts for this notoriously-expensive and logistically-difficult showcase (credit where it’s due, eh?).

The original ISA Worlds in Denmark still hold the record for most countries participating (42 odd) and that record was never going to be broken until the event returned to Europe. So while 10-12 weeks’ notice is cutting it fine, the fact that Europe and Europe’s powerhouse paddling nation of France will host the event is sure to give the 2023 Worlds some much-needed, nay, desperately-needed momentum. Hell there are 40 nations who would drive to France.

Hosting this year’s event in the bay of Sables-d’Olonne provides a postcard-perfect setting for a SUP world championship given its location on the country’s picturesque Atlantic coast. Olonne is just an hour down the coast from Saint-Jean-de-Monts, host of the well-known Vendée Glisse event that used to be a staple of the Euro Tour. Thus all signs would point to the distance race being a downwinder while the region can also get decent waves despite being a long way from the famed surf beaches of the Sud-Ouest, which means the beach race could be a BOP-style showdown (remember the BOP?) and the SUP surfing contest (because apparently that’s still a sport) might score a few ft of fun.

Given the location and ease of logistics, and if the European summer lingers (late September is pushing it) and enough top athletes convince their sponsors to book another ticket to Europe after having just completed a Euro Tour campaign, France 2023 could set a new benchmark for the ISA Worlds.

(In another mirror of Denmark 2017, this year’s event goes back to back with the famed 11 City Tour in the Netherlands which could give both of them a nice little boost.)

Without even looking at who will be competing for each nation it’s safe to say France will start hot favourites to win at home. They’ve long been the dominant force at the ISA Worlds and if it wasn’t for the curious inclusion of traditional paddleboarding (a sport at which Australia is essentially unbeatable) then Les Bleus would have already won several teams titles before they finally saluted in 2019 and then defended last year.

Australia still has world-class talent (Boothy, Ty, etc) but even if this event wasn’t announced on short notice on the other side of the world, I doubt the Green & Gold could muster a squad to match the Europeans. We just don’t have the depth in this country that Europe possesses.

The biggest threat to France’s champagne party will surely be their southern neighbours those plucky Spaniards who’ve been dominating of late especially on the women’s side through Espe and Duna (though I don’t think Espe was chosen for the Spanish team — odd indeed). Throw in Team USA who were probably unlucky to lose the team silver to Spain in PR, not to mention the Land of the Rising Sun and their new generation of giant-killing wunderkinds and we’ve probably got a new “Big Four” in the sport that shockingly doesn’t include Australia despite our status as the winningest team in ISA history.

The future: Sonia Caimari (Spain) and Soryn Preston (USA) at the 2022 ISA Worlds in Puerto Rico

Interestingly, the ISA announced that while France 2023 will feature the full smorgasbord of paddling parfait – SUP racing, SUP surfing and prone racing – Copenhagen 2024 will be a pure SUP racing event. Perhaps that’s symbolic of the fact SUP racing is the only discipline with a chance of making the Olympics, or perhaps it’s simple logistics: The 2017 Worlds were split between Denmark’s flat-water capital and its five-hour-drive West Coast where waves are fickle that time of year anyway.

Or maybe just maybe the ISA realised SUP surfing barely even registers as a sport these days and that the ICF’s racing-only world championship makes more sense even if we do lose a bit of character and flair when the surfers aren’t there. Indeed it’s hard to gaze upon this week’s major announcement without seeing a reflection of those majestic Olympic rings casting their long shadow over proceedings…

It’s always been the ISA’s goal to have SUP racing in the Olympics even if only as a trojan horse to get their raison d’etre, regular surfing, onto the world’s biggest sporting stage. Once that quest was completed without the help of stand up paddling many wondered if the ISA would ditch its pretty new date and focus solely on its first love. Last-minute organisation of the 2019 Worlds, a dearth of communication during the pandemic and a total failure to find a host in 2021 didn’t do the ISA any favours – especially given some serious flirting from the canoe boys – but a respectable event in Puerto Rico late last year started swinging the pendulum of public paddling opinion back towards the surfers.

So even though the ICF announced their 2023 and 2024 World Championships months ago, and despite the fact Pattaya 2023 is still set to be the biggest event of the year, so fickle is momentum in our sport and so agnostic are athletes towards the whims of federations that yesterday’s announcement was probably enough to even the ledger at worst and regain momentum at best.

The ISA’s timing couldn’t be better. I’ve seen a few things behind-the-scenes that suggest the ICF honeymoon is coming to an end just as the ISA is waking up from its coma. Like the waxing and waning of the moon, the rollercoaster ride continues.

And while paddletics are all so tiring and part of me just wishes to write “for the good of the sport” in a rainbow-and-unicorn-coloured font, that would be, quite frankly, bullshit. And we have no shortage of bullshit in the world so please let’s not let SUP Racer fall down that rabbit hole.

The surfing and canoeing federations aren’t designed to be our friends. By definition they are desperate organisations fighting as minnows in a cutthroat Olympic world. They have their own agendas and missions and if we can find a mutually-beneficial relationship between the paddling community and the ISA and/or ICF then perhaps we can reach a Galactic order full of peace and prosperity (because as Luke knows the Rebel Alliance of paddlers will never organise themselves well enough for a SUP-only federation to maintain harmony). But if we can’t then the core SUP community needs to be more fluid than a gender studies class at UC Berkeley and simply do what’s in its own best interests.

But whatever your take on today’s news one thing is blindingly obvious: The ISA’s commitment to Europe for the next two years is yet another sign the continent is the epicenter of the sport and will hold that title for many years to come.

France beat early front-runner Taiwan (who apparently pulled out last month despite being in pole position) to host this year’s event while Denmark was viewed within the ISA as a safe choice for a 2024 announcement given their 2017 performance was widely regarded as the most-professional (and best-attended) championship in the event’s decade-long history.

The 2023 Worlds are happening 24 September through 1 October, while 2024 is already locked in for 16-24 September (SUP racing only and it’s still a nine-day event? Never change, ISA, never change).

Since the very first championship way back in 2012 but without events in 2020 and 2021, France 2023 will mark the 10th anniversary of the ISA Worlds. And I feel it just be a worthy celebration.

Time to dust off the baguette microphone, perhaps?