ICF SUP World Championships Thailand Interview

When ever we get big news from organizers and industry, we at the Stand Up Magazin are interested in the back story. The news the the ICF has confirmed the SUP World Championships in Thailan made us curios and we contacted Hoichan Kwon from the ICF to find out more:  

Hoichan Kwon at the last ICF SUP World Championships:

Olympic Champion Yurii Cheban auctioned off his Olympic medals to support the war in Ukraine. This picture was taken in Gdynia just before the medals were shipped off.

Aloha Hoichan,

Thank you for your time. We were excited to get the ICF announcement for 2023 the other day. Tell us how is the ICF able to always have a venue locked in a year in advance?

Hi Mike, good to hear from you. Well, the ICF is an Olympic sport federation established 100 years ago (1924). So, we do have a strict structure to our bidding system. Technically, all ICF world championships are awarded 4 years in advance to have sufficient time to organize a proper world class event. Which also means this SUP host award is way behind schedule. We have been quite behind in SUP thus far. The reason for being late is that SUP is rather a new discipline for us and COVID didn’t help the planning. However, we do already have hosts for 2024 (Sarasota, FL USA), and already bids in for 2025 and 2026. So, we are almost back on track. I think having so much interest to host the ICF SUP World Championships is a testament to the growing popularity of the sport. Of course, having 170 national federation members under us that are interested in SUP helps as well.

Wow that is very impressive and sure something the world of SUP is not used to. We have been a sport of last minute changes and cancellations.

Thailand with the beach town of Pattaya sounds like a great venue. What kind of criteria does a venue have to meet to become an ICF destination for an event?

For a world championship, we have a long list of requirements of deliverables. If you get bored, you can have a look at the two documents (technical deliverable and Venue Manual) here https://www.canoeicf.com/operations-manuals. That is the precise reason why we award our worlds 4 years in advance as it takes a lot of preparation. But as I mentioned earlier, we have been behind on doing that thus far. Not having enough time for preparations can lead to lot of requirements not being met like we saw in Gdynia this year. There were other variables like the unexpected war in Ukraine, but we really only had 3 months to prepare which was not ideal and some of it I take responsibility for.  

The ICF started with the first world championships in China and then we went to Europe for years. Now we are back in Asia. Can you tell us a bit about the SUP in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand?

As you are aware, good portion of the SUP brands have manufacturing with Cobra International which is located in Thailand. Also, our partner Starboard and many other brands are based in Thailand. There are more reasons than just the manufacturing for these brands to be based in there. They have endless beautiful beaches, rivers and lakes where paddlers can enjoy the warm weather all year long. It is very affordable once you arrive and finding a board is never a problem. I went around Thailand just last month and every beach or hotel I went to had racing boards available to rent. When you take out the nightmare of SUP board logistics, then the choice becomes clear that Thailand is the place to go.

I am sure the first question for many Europeans when they heard the news, was how can I get my board there? Will the ICF be of any assistance for board transport or getting boards on location?

The local organizing committee (Thai canoe federation) are already in talks with Cobra International to gather boards available around Thailand to be used for this event. In addition, I have spoken with our SUP logistics partner Sports Camps, who have informed me that they are in talks with our other partner Starboard to have a range of boards available in Pattaya. So I believe most athletes will not have to travel with their boards but will have a choice of boards to rent locally.

With a maximum turn out in Poland, is the ICF concerned about significantly less participants due to the long-distance travel for most participants? Particularly Europeans?

I believe that we have established ourselves as the dominant in the international arena to where this will not be a problem. Of course, the demographics of our participants will heavily shift from European to Asian, but I believe the same top professional paddlers that showed up in Europe will also be in Thailand. We have an obligation to other continents to bring our competitions to them. This will also prove that the ICF is not a European organization but rather encompasses the world.  Also, our event is open to everyone. SUP is an inclusive and accessible sport, and it should remain that way. This doesn’t mean that world championship takes anything away from the professionals, just look at marathon as an example. Being an open event, we want to create a festive environment for everyone to come and enjoy the sport at a high level. The Thai organizers and the city of Pattaya have agreed to put on a great show which will include beach parties so bring your friends and family!

In your newsletter the ICF mentions something about a pre-qualification process. How did this year’s qualification work out? Are you happy with the concept?

Overall, I am happy with the 2022 ICF SUP World Ranking Series. There were some events with more turn outs and others but that is inevitable. As for serving as a pre-qualification, it was a useful tool. I think it would’ve worked better if the weather cooperated in Gdynia and if we were able to stick to the planned schedule. I have learned for this season and have plans to change some parts for the coming season.

Lastly we heard that there is a push for a 2028 SUP inclusion in the Olympics with a Tech. Race. Can you explain our readers what has to happen for a new sport to be included in the Olympics. We don’t want people to have false hopes.

This is obviously a huge topic in the sport. I have not personally met with LA 28 organizers or the IOC but my president Thomas has met with both parties and expressed our interest. I have heard that ISA put forth a plan for SUP in LA 28 but I don’t have any further information on this. To be honest, I’m not an expert on this subject. The usual process would be an international federation like the ICF or ISA will propose a bid for a new sport to the organizing committee like LA 28, which will then be decided by the IOC. I believe 5 years before the Olympics. One thing the IOC have made clear is that the athlete quota will stay the same, I think 10500 but I’m not sure. Athlete quota is the most important aspect of all of this, not the new discipline or medals. Because SUP is so versatile, it does not need its own venue at the Olympics. It can be held at our sprint course or at other venues like surfing, sailing, or open water swimming. However, increasing quota directly impacts the cost for everyone involved which is why IOC is very adamant on not increasing the athlete quotas. Increasing athlete quotas means building more infrastructure to house, transport, and feed not just the athletes but also the staff surrounding those athletes. So in the end, it seems like the federation with more quotas and medals ultimately have the advantage to push for a new discipline. We recently did this redistribution to introduce Kayak Cross in Paris 24. Again, I’m not the expert on this topic, this is just my opinion/perception.

Ah OK that is very interesting. I think the more people understand the mechanics on what it takes for a sport go Olympic the better and of course if SUP is ready for Olympics is topic we can look at another time.

Thank you very much for your time.

Thanks Mike, I’ve been closely following your coverage for some time now. I appreciate the work you do, keep up the good work.

Thanks for the acknowledgement.