Five Olympic Sports to Try in Los Angeles

It’s long been on the cards, but this week it was officially announced that Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympics. The decision gives the USA its first summer games in more than 30 years, and shines a spotlight on the City of Angels for the third time in its history, after previously hosting the prestigious event in 1932 and 1984.

It’s all a long way off, of course, with the Tokyo and Paris games to come first. But with LA’s enormous contribution to the global sporting scene – including some homegrown sports that will be included for the first time in 2020 – it seems only fitting to mark the occasion with a look at what’s on offer in and around the city.

Surfing

Surfer at Huntington Beach Pier © Randy Hines / Shutterstock

Surfer at Huntington Beach Pier © Randy Hines / Shutterstock

After much lobbying by the International Surfing Association, the sport of surfing will make its debut in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. At this stage it’s just a one-off, but if the proponents of Olympic surfing make a good first impression, it could soon become a regular fixture – which can only bode well for the 2028 games in Los Angeles, where surf culture runs as deep as the Mariana Trench.

If you’re a newbie looking to catch your first wave, there are few better places to learn than LA. Surf schools and one-to-one lessons are available up and down the coastline, and with around 20 beaches to choose from in Los Angeles County alone, you won’t be short of options. For an all-round cultural experience head slightly further south to Huntington Beach – otherwise known as Surf City. Not only is this Orange County seaside town home to the annual U.S Open of Surfing, the International Surfing Museum and the Surfing Walk of Fame, it also hosts the awesome three-day Surf City Surf Dog competition, where board-loving pooches compete to become top of the wave-riding pups. This year’s event kicks off on Friday 22 September.

Cycling BMX

BMX Racing © satit_srihin / Shutterstock

BMX Racing © satit_srihin / Shutterstock

Cycling BMX (bicycle motocross) made its first Olympics appearance at the 2008 games in Beijing. Only the competitive racing discipline has been included up until now, with eight riders competing on a dirt track filled with obstacles, jumps and narrow bends. But the sport is much more than racing. The freestyle element is made up of several further disciplines, all focused on stunt riding and tricks. In June this year the IOC announced that one of these disciplines – BMX Freestyle Park – will be added to the summer programme for the 2020 games in Tokyo.

As with other underground sports originating in southern California, BMX quickly became a cultural phenomenon, peaking in the late 1980s before gradually falling from favour. But even during its decline, a hardcore group of riders continued to advance the sport and keep the subculture alive. In time it started to enjoy a resurgence, helped in part by the launch of extreme sports events like the annual X Games, which came with big corporate sponsors and TV deals. Today the sport continues to thrive, and even complete novices can experience the booming California BMX scene. If you’re super keen, head to one of the beginners’ classes at the Chula Vista BMX Olympic Training Center on the outskirts of San Diego, where you might even find yourself riding alongside a current Olympian. Alternatively, LA and its surrounds are home to several BMX parks where you can get some casual coaching or sit back and watch the pros in action, including Whittier Narrows BMX and the SkateHouse.

Beach Volleyball

Beach Volleyball at Huntington Beach © kesterhu / Shutterstock

Beach Volleyball at Huntington Beach © kesterhu / Shutterstock

Few Olympic sports are better suited to Los Angeles than beach volleyball, which first appeared on the summer programme at the 1996 games in Atlanta. Unsurprisingly, Brazil, Australia and the USA have dominated the rankings ever since, with the Chinese team emerging as a force to be reckoned with in recent years.

The history of beach volleyball stretches back to the early twentieth century. Most records place its origins in 1920s Santa Monica, when permanent nets and beach clubs began to spring up along the sand, and groups of friends and family would play each other in teams of six. It wasn’t long before the sport crossed continents, though California has always remained its spiritual home. The game is something of a rite of passage for young Angelenos, and today you’ll find courts on almost every notable stretch of sand. If you fancy a game, Manhattan Beach is a good place to start. Not only does the Parks and Recreation service offer classes for all levels, it’s also the home of the Manhattan Beach Open; the premier event of the professional volleyball players tour. Other popular spots include Hermosa Beach, Sorrento Beach in Santa Monica, and Long Beach.

Skateboarding

Skateboarder at Venice Beach Skate Park, Los Angeles © oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

Skateboarder at Venice Beach Skate Park, Los Angeles © oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

It originated in 1950s California and, like surfing, it’s also due to make its first Olympics outing at the 2020 Tokyo games. But the elevation of skateboarding to an Olympic sport has not been universally welcomed, with some members of the skate community fearing the cult sport’s individuality and creativity could be stifled. Nevertheless, preparations for the big event are already well underway. Two disciplines have been confirmed – Park and Street –  with skateboarders mostly judged on overall speed and originality, as well as the complexity of their tricks.

Los Angeles is the centre of skate culture, so there’s no shortage of skateboarding pros waiting to help you master a frontside grind. Many offer private or small group lessons at one of the 21 skate parks in LA, with Venice, Culver City, and Santa Monica’s the Cove three of the most popular. Alternatively head to indoor skate park Skatelab in Simi Valley, where you can take a free ‘ice breaker’ session on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month.

Trampolining

Trampolining © Alex Emanuel Koch / Shutterstock

Trampolining © Alex Emanuel Koch / Shutterstock

Invented in the 1930s by Iowan gymnast George Nissen, the first trampolines were originally used to train astronauts and help athletes perfect their acrobatic skills for other sports such as diving. But before too long the bouncy enterprise became popular in its own right, and in 1964 the first World Championships were held in London.

It was to be another 36 years before trampolining passed another major milestone. But finally and much to Nissen’s delight, the activity was recognised as an Olympic sport in the year 2000, when it was included in the programme at the Sydney summer games. Today, the sport is more popular than ever, with domestic trampolines a feature of back gardens around the world. But there’s still nothing better than springing up and down in a super-sized setting, and as you’d expect, Los Angeles more than delivers on this front. Try Sky Zone in the Torrance area for wall-to-wall trampoline courts suitable for toddlers and up; the enormous Sky High Sports in Woodland Hills, or Get Air Surf City in Huntington Beach, where you review your jumping skills after the event using their video recording facility.

For more things to see and do in LA, visit our new Los Angeles destination guide.

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About Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

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