Most Popular Water Sports Ranked

In this article, we rank the top 16 water sports based on a set list of 8 factors. ​These include:


Worldwide Representation

Dominant Countries

Fan Numbers

Sponsorship

Stars and Salaries

Olympic Participation

Structure and Competition

Broadcasting

Contents

1. Swimming

Swimming is one of the oldest activities associated with water known to man. Our evolutionary origins are rooted in our ability to navigate seas, lakes, and rivers. Initially as a form of survival, then transportation, swimming has become a pastime enjoyed in almost every country in the world. It also forms part of the upbringing of a large part of the planet’s population. From the community level all the way to the profession elite, swimming has a vibrant and active competitive scene.

Worldwide Representation

Swimming is governed by the Fédération Internationale de Natation. The body is the central organizational heart of 208 member federations, representing nearly every country on the planet. Given that about half the world’s population can swim, one time yearly recreational participants can be numbered in the billions.

Dominant Countries

If we look purely at performance at the biggest swimming events (Olympics and World Championships), the USA is the most dominant nation. Germany, China, and Australia perform consistently, but lag behind in terms of medal hauls in comparison with the USA. Russia, Hungary, The Netherlands, and the UK are the next best nations. Participation figures tend to match this classification.

Fan Numbers

Determining a figure for world wide interest in swimming is near impossible to obtain. As a ballpark figure, we can consider that the FINA World Championships are generally watched by 4.5 billion people worldwide. A similar number of fans tune in for the Olympics. The number does need to be appreciated in context; it includes other FINA discipline such as diving and synchronized swimming.

Sponsorship

Speedo, Omega, and Arena are among the top sponsors in swimming, each a leviathan of the industry and brand names recognizable the world over.

Stars and Salaries

Swimming stars gain international appeal during big events. Names such as Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps are bonafide celebrities in the USA. Phelps has an estimated yearly income of over 10 million dollars. China’s answer to Michael Phelps, Sun Yang earns around 3.5 million dollars per annum.

Olympic Participation

Swimming is an Olympic sport and has appeared in every edition of the modern Olympics since the very first event in 1896, held in Athens.

Structure and Competition

Swimming is divided into two distinct categories: indoor pool and open water. Indoor swimming has are 40 official disciplines, though only 32 are recognised at Olympic level, 16 per gender. These include butterfly, individual medley, and freestyle among others. Open water events are divided in three disciplines, based on distances of 5, 10, and 25 km, though only the 10 km appears at the Olympic games.

The season includes the FINA Swimming World Cup, which includes a series of events in variety of countries. The World Championships are scheduled every year.

Broadcasting

The FINA World Championships are broadcast to over 185 countries with over 5,000 hours of coverage. During the Olympics, swimming is the most widely covered water sport not only in terms of live broadcast, but also highlights and commentating/analysis. Broadcasters such as NBC, BBC, and France TV often heavily feature swimming in their Olympic schedules.

2. Diving

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Worldwide Representation

Housed under FINA, Fédération Internationale de Natation, diving sometimes suffer from favoritism towards swimming in terms of personnel and venues. Of the 208 member nations, not all field diving teams at international events. At the last Olympics 30 nations were represented, while the FINA Grand Prix and World series attract on average 25 nations. Worldwide, estimates place regular divers at around 1 million people, though this doesn’t take into account recreational diving from overhangs, cliffs, and the like.

Dominant Countries

The USA and China are by far the most dominant diving nations with 207 Olympics medals between them. Australia, Brazil, UK, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and Russia often figure in the lower medals and field large teams for events. In women’s diving, China is virtually unbeatable, claiming all the gold medals in Rio and half of the overall medal opportunities.

Fan Numbers

Around 81% of the Olympics TV audience tuned in to diving at some point during the event. Most of the focus is every four years, but like any niche sport, diving has a strong army of loyal fans who follow the sport year round. FINA has a cumulative social media following of over half a million people.

Sponsorship

Arena, Nike, Adidas, Speedo, and Nikon are among the sports biggest sponsors. Athletes benefit from endorsement deals that supplement prize money earnings.

Stars and Salaries

Chen Aisen is China’s best performer with two gold medals in Rio. The American David Boudia is popular at home. Tom Daley is a celebrity in the UK with a salary exceeding 350,000 dollars a year and often appears on mainstream television. Among women, we have Chen Ruolin from China who has dominated the discipline for over a decade.

Olympic Participation

Diving has been an Olympic sport ever since first being introduced during the 1904 games in St. Louis, USA.

Structure and Competition

At larger events, competition takes place in eight different events, four per gender: 3 metre springboard, 10 metre platform, synchronised 3 metre springboard, and synchronized 10 metre platform. Smaller competitions also make use of the 1 metre springboard.

Beyond the Olympics and quadrennial Aquatic World Championships, the regular professional season consists of the FINA Diving World Series, which is made up of four events in China, Japan, Canada, and Russia. As well as the FINA Diving World Cup, where nations are pitted against each other, and the FINA Grand Prix that incorporates nine events throughout the season.

Broadcasting

As with swimming, the FINA World Championship is broadcast to over 180 countries across the globe. In the USA, NBC has a multi-billion dollar deal to broadcast Olympics events and the diving series always attracts huge audiences numbered in the billions worldwide. More focus on diving events is lauded as one of the reason for a resurgence of interest in Olympic games TV viewership during the 2008 and 2012 games.

3. Sailing

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140 member nations are organized under the umbrella of World Sailing (formerly known as ISAF), the body that governs eight major disciplines. Out of these, 270 sailors from 62 nations took part in the Rio Olympic sailing events. Around the world, estimates put regular sailors at around 20 million people. This is in part due to the recreational appeal of the sport, presence at beach resorts, rental services, and via the yachting industry.

Dominant Countries

In terms of Olympic dominance, Great Britain is by far the most prolific medal winner followed by USA, Norway, Spain, Denmark, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Brazil. At non-Olympic level, France is also a notable participant and winner. China is a rising force in the sport with increasingly successful outings at regular season events.

Fan Numbers

Exact fan numbers are hard to come by, but if we take into account world participation, interest is on part with many second tier Olympic sports.

Sponsorship

Sailing’s main sponsor is Rolex, the watch manufacturer, which is synonymous of the sport’s appeal to a more affluent demographic, as well as whole host of industry specific partners such as MacLaren and Louis Vuitton.

Stars and Salaries

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most successful Olympic sailor with a haul of medals at five different games as well as multiple world championship wins. He is the LeBron James of sailing and few other sailors have the same palmares and international recognition.

Olympic Participation

Sailing has been part of the Olympic program since 1896 with only one edition where it was omitted.

Structure and Competition

Olympics sailing is generally organized into 10 different boat classes determined by weight and size, as well as sailor numbers. Five for men, four for women, and one mixed event.

The top-tier of sailing is organised as the WS Sailing World Cup with five events around the world. Every year, WS also organises the Sailing World Championships as well as a Nations Cup. There is also a huge selection of events and races around the world throughout the season such as the America's Cup, Cowes Week, Tea Race, and Mug Race.

Broadcasting

The Olympics are widely broadcast around the world to billions of viewers with a fair share tuning in to watch sailing at some point or other. Big regular events like the America’s Cup drawn in millions of TV viewers, especially in the USA.

4. Fishing

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Worldwide Representation

Fishing as a sport is governed by the International Confederation of Sport Fishing (CIPS). The body is made up of 115 national federations. Among the national federations, there are an estimated 50 million registered people. Fishing is also a popular amateur pastime around the world meaning finding statistics on overall participation impossible. In the USA alone, the number of recreational fishers is considered to be over 40 million people.

Dominant Countries

The USA tends to be the most dominant country thanks in part to the development of competitive bass fishing and the professionalisation of the sport. In other disciplines such as fly fishing and angling, France performs consistently as do England and Italy.

Fan Numbers

Fishing’s biggest circuit, the FLW Tour, is seen by over 564 million people worldwide per season. There is also a healthy selection of magazines, podcasts, and online content hinting at the solid fan base.

Sponsorship

Walmart is the title sponsor of the FLW Tour. Other sponsors are generally associated with fishing such as Marine, Mercury and Ranger Boats. The fishing industry is valued at 58 billion dollars.

Stars and Salaries

Ray Scott, Kevin VanDam, and Mike Iaconelli are stars in the USA for their performances in bass fishing. They have salaries ranging from 300,000 dollars to 500,000 dollars per year. Prize money is around 125,000 dollars per FLW win and many anglers have endorsement deals. The Lady Bass Anglers Association also runs a women’s circuit in parallel, but few women are able to fish full time due to less prize money and interest from fans, though this is changing as more efforts are made to promote women’s competitive fishing.

Olympic Participation

Fishing is not an Olympic sport, nor are there any plans to introduce it at any time in the future.

Structure and Competition

Fishing competition is divided depending on technique and style of fishing. The 12 event Bassmaster Tournament Trail, Bassmaster Elite Series,  Forrest Wood Cup, and FLW Tour are among the most popular competitions with important monetary prizes. The World Fly Fishing Championship and the World Freshwater Angling Championships are also prominent competitions.

Broadcasting

The FLW events are broadcast on big sports channels like ESPN and FOX. A large amount of online content is also available, notably on YouTube.

5. Rowing

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Worldwide Representation

The governing body of rowing is FISA, Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron, and is made up of 153 member countries from across the planet. 69 of these made on appearance at the last Olympics with a total of 547 rowers. Global statistics for participation do no exist, but in heartlands such as the UK, USA, and Germany, hundreds of thousands of people regularly take part. FISA is one of the oldest federations in the world and was the first to join the Olympics.

Dominant Countries

The USA is the dominant force in world rowing with over 89 cumulative Olympic medals. Close behind are Great Britain, Germany, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Italy, who performs notably well at the World Championships.

Fan Numbers

One of rowing’s biggest events, The Boat Race, is watched on TV by over 7 million people and 250,000 spectators on the banks of the river Thames. The Olympic rowing events are watched by over 3 million viewers in the USA alone.

Sponsorship

Big name sponsors include Oakley and United Airlines. The rest of the sponsorship landscape is populated by rowing-specific companies that provide boats and equipment such as Filippi and Hudson.

Stars and Salaries

The large team format of rowing means stars are uncommon in rowing. Probably the most famous rowers are Steve Redgrave, who won medals at five consecutive Olympic games, and Elisabeta Lipă with eight medals scattered over six Olympics. Salaries are modest and don’t reflect the earnings in more established sports.

Olympic Participation

Rowing has been part of the Olympics since the first event in Athens in 1896. The only year the event was cancelled was the very first Olympics due to inclement weather on the water. Over the years, the distances and disciplines have shifted. Currently, there are 13 rowing events during the games.

Structure and Competition

As well as the usual four-year Olympic events, the season is punctuated by the World Rowing Cup, which incorporates three events from May to June in a variety of countries (most recently Serbia, Poland, and Switzerland) generally located in Europe. Points are accrued at each event, the country with the most points wins the series. Every year, FISA hosts the World Rowing Championships with a selection of boat classes. Of the twenty different disciplines within rowing, a varying portion of them is present at events throughout the season, though the Olympic ones remain the most popular.

Broadcasting

Rowing is habitually broadcast around the world during the Olympics. The World Rowing Championships are shown by 77 different broadcasters worldwide. Broadcasts include NBC, Fox, BBC, and France TV.

6. Surfing

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Worldwide Representation

The governing body of surfing is ISA, International Surfing Association, and totals 103 member nations from all four corners of the world. Surfing is predominantly popular in the USA, notably Hawaii and California, however, where there is a coastline and sufficient waves, there are surfing communities. France, Australia, Brazil, and Peru have established surfing cultures as well. There’s also the World Surf League which is similar to the ISA, except that it is made up of individual professional surfers rather than nations and organizes the main professional regular season events. Surfing participation grows by about 30% per year making it one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

Dominant Countries

Considering World Surf League results, the USA dominates the sport with 86 championship wins across six categories. Australia follows close behind 72 wins. Brazil, Peru, France, South Africa, United Kingdom, Portugal, and New Zealand are the next tier of surfing nations though they lag considerably behind the USA and Australia.

Fan Numbers

Over 14 million people tuned in to watch streams of a World Surf League event in 2017 alone. Fans of surfing are generally younger than many traditional sports and as a consequence most of the content is created for online consumption. The WSL is particularly successful on social media, boasting nearly 7 million fans, which is more than rich, historical sports such as the NHL and MLS.

Sponsorship

The surfing industry has a revenue of over 13 billion dollars per year. The lucrativeness makes sponsorship very attractive to companies. Jeep, Quicksilver, Corona, Rip Curl, and Billabong are among the most high profile sponsors. Naming rights for WSL events are also highly prized due to the exposure they garner.

Stars and Salaries

Kelly Slater, Tyler Wright, John John Florence, Paige Alms, and Taylor Jensen are among the famous names of surfing. John John Florence earns an estimated 3.2 million dollars a year and is sponsored by brands such as Vans, Spy, and Hurley. Kelly Slater, historically the most famous surfer currently competing, has a net worth of around 25 million dollars.

Olympic Participation

Surfing is not currently an Olympic sport, but will feature for the first time during the Tokyo 2020 games. There is some controversy over the addition of surfing, with much contestation coming from professional surfers who want to safeguard the unique culture surrounding the sport. ISAF is eager for the sport to make its Olympic debut.

Structure and Competition

WSL consists of over 180 global events for different rankings. The top-tier, the Championship Tour, is made up of 11 events spread across the globe from Hawaii to Indonesia and Tahiti. Other events depend on board length, age, and skill level. Each event usually lasts multiple days. ISA hosts the yearly World Surfing Games where countries are pitted against one another.

Broadcasting

Surfing is predominantly broadcast online with little to no coverage by mainstream television networks. Recently, the WSL agreed to an exclusive deal with Facebook for exclusive streaming rights of events for a cost nearing 30 million dollars. Generally, WSL events are broadcast for over eight hours per day for the biggest events and this over the course of multiple days.

7. Synchronised Swimming

Worldwide Representation

Also represented by FINA, synchronised swimming (now known as artistic swimming) is counted among the sports the 208 nations sign up to take part in, though only 23 nations were represented at the Rio Olympics. Synchronized swimming is one of two sports that is historically only played by women at the Olympics, though there are efforts to include men notably with inclusion at events such as the World Championships.

Dominant Countries

Historically, the USA has been the dominant force in synchronised swimming, followed closely by Japan and Canada. However, for past two decades, Russia has risen as the best synchronised swimming nation, winning all of the gold medals on offer since the Sydney Olympics in 2000 for a total of ten. China has also been edging closer to Olympic gold, collecting all the silver medals at the most recent games in Rio.

Fan Numbers

Like many smaller sports, synchronized swimming comes to forefront of the world’s attention during the Olympics games every four years. In between, the sport has a solid fan base, though the numbers are comparatively small in relation to water sports like swimming and surfing. Of the 4.5 billion people who tune in to the Aquatic World Championships, a fair share watch the synchronized swimming events.

Sponsorship

The usual pool sports sponsors endorse artistic swimming; arena and speedo.

Stars and Salaries

Though not stars in the same realm as those found in football, Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina are five time gold medalists at the Olympics and have won countless World Championships. Both have a networth of less than half a million dollars and beyond prize money, earn a rather modest salary.

Olympic Participation

Synchronized swimming first featured at the 1984 games in Los Angeles and has featured at every event since.

Structure and Competition

At the Olympics two events feature, which are women’s team and women’s duet. At the World Aquatics Championship, held every two years, nine events are on the program including mixed free duet and mixed technical duet since 2015, in an effort to allow more male competitors into the highest echelons of the sport. The regular season is punctuated by the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series, which consists of ten events around the world from Japan to Uzbekistan.

Broadcasting

During the Olympics, synchronized swimming is broadcast on the majority of networks that cover the games around the world. The synchronized events at the World Championships are covered by select broadcasters such as NBC in the USA and the BBC in the UK.

8. Water Polo

Worldwide Representation

Water polo is another sport covered by the ubiquitous FINA and its 208 member nations, though only 12 nations participated in the Olympics in Rio and 16 at the Aquatic World Championships in 2017. The sport is played by both men and women with around 40% of players being female.

Dominant Countries

Serbia, or a historical variant of Yugoslavia, is the main force within world water polo, with medals at the last five Olympics, winners of the last five editions of the Water Polo World League, and five gold medals in the Aquatic World Championships. Croatia, Hungary, and Russia follow behind illustrating the dominance of Eastern European nations in the sport. In women’s water polo, the USA and Australia are dominant with multiple gold medals and World Championships.

Fan Numbers

As is the case with all aquatic sports, the majority of interest is during the Olympic games and World Championships where viewership soars to the billions of people across the globe.

Sponsorship

KAP7, Arena and United Airlines feature among water polo’s sponsors.

Stars and Salaries

Stand out stars in water polo don’t have the pull of famous players in other sports and as such there are no celebrities whose renown breaks the confines of the water polo circuits. Salaries, around 30,000 dollars a year, are relatively low with prize money following suit.

Olympic Participation

Water polo has been an Olympic sport since the 1900 games in Paris. Women’s water polo was introduced at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Structure and Competition

Beyond the Olympics and Aquatic World Championships, the regular season is made up of the FINA Water Polo World Cup every two years, FINA Water Polo World League, which is the top team league with qualifiers and a grand final, as well as intercontinental cups. The sport is played in two categories; men’s and women’s tournament.

Broadcasting

Water polo is covered by all the main Olympic broadcasters and the finals regularly attract hundreds of millions of viewers. The Aquatic World Championships are broadcast in certain countries as well as via broadcasters like FranceTV and beIN.

9. Canoeing/Kayaking

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Worldwide Representation

Canoeing and kayaking are organised under the International Canoe Federation (ICF), which consists of 160 affiliated countries. Both men and women compete in a selection of disciplines. At the most recent olympics, 334 athletes from 53 nations took part. Worldwide, there are an estimated 20 million regular canoers/kayakers. Though canoes and kayaks are similar in function and concept, they differ in their historical origins and technical specifications. The biggest difference is that canoes are open topped with the user sitting on their knees using a single-blade paddle, while kayaks are closed to prevent water entering the boat and are used sitting down.

Dominant Countries

European countries are traditionally the strongest nations including Hungary, Germany, Spain, Great Britain, France, and Romania. In terms of Olympic performance, Germany stands above the rest with a total of 32 gold medals since the modern iteration of the games began.

Fan Numbers

TV viewership gets a huge boost during the Olympics with around 32 million people tuning in for every minute of coverage. At the event, slalom is one of the niche sports that stirs up the most interest due to the novelty of the event, the purpose built water course, and the skill involved. The World Championships regularly hosts upwards of 45,000 spectators and 80 million TV viewers. Across social media, events regularly get over 2 million unique interactions and ICF has over 100,000 followers across various platforms.

Sponsorship

No big name sponsors are involved in canoeing and kayaking. Endorsement is limited to industry specific companies such as Conti and Dansport.

Stars and Salaries

Lisa Carrington, Denis Gargaud Chanut, Joe Clark, and Max Rendschmidt are among the sport’s most famous athletes.

Olympic Participation

Canoeing and kayaking has been part of every edition of the Olympic games since the 1936 games in Berlin. Slalom was included from 1972 onwards. Women’s events were introduced in 1948, but only in the kayak category, this has remained the case ever since.

Structure and Competition

Canoe and Kayak are competed in two disciplines; slalom and sprint. Sprint events range in distance from 200 meters and 500 meters, to 1000 meters and 5000 meters, with one to four people in the boat. Slalom is competed on a set course with either one or two people per boat. Beyond the Olympics, the biggest events are the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships and ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships. The regular season is made up of a selection of cups and events around the world.

Broadcasting

The World Cup is covered by 24 broadcasters across the world, with broadcasters such as Eurosport drawing in over 10 million viewers regularly.

10. Windsurfing

Worldwide Representation

International windsurfing operates under the auspices of World Sailing, and thus a number of the 140 member states partake in competition. 36 of these participated in the men’s event at the Olympics, while 26 countries were represented for the women’s event. Around 70 countries take part in the popular RS:X class events around the world. Windsurfing is a popular recreational activity on coasts and lakes.

Dominant Countries

New Zealand, UK, The Netherlands, Poland, China, and Spain are the dominant windsurfing nations. New Zealand has won the most cumulative amount of medals at the Olympic games. Brazil and Australia have significant numbers of amateur windsurfers.

Fan Numbers

Interest in windsurfing peaks during the Olympics, though it is one of the less watched sports on offer at the games. Interest peaked during the 1980s, when it was estimated than one in three households in the USA owned a windsurfing board.

Sponsorship

Sponsors include industry-specific brands like NeilPryde as well as larger ones such as Volvo.

Stars and Salaries

Dorian van Rijsselberghe, Nick Dempsey, Pierre Le Coq, and Marina Alabau are established names in the windsurfing scene.

Olympic Participation

Windsurfing was first introduced during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. It was, however, initially omitted from the 2012 games and replaced by kitesurfing, though the decision was ultimately overturned. It appeared in Rio and is set to feature at Tokyo 2020. In an effort to ensure racing is sufficiently fast paced, all competitors use the same class of boards. In recent times, the Neil Pryde RS:X model has been the board of choice for the Olympics because it offers a relatively reliable performance regardless of wind conditions.

Structure and Competition

Windsurfing is competed in various categories determined by the specifications of the board. These range from the popular formula class, slalom, big air, super x, speed racing, freestyle to the raceboard class. Apart from the Olympics, the World Championships are among the most popular events. The regular season is marked by the PWA World Tour

Broadcasting

Windsurfing at the Olympics is broadcast worldwide by mainstream networks. Regular season PWA events are streamed online to great success.

11. Dragon Boating

Worldwide Representation

74 countries are members of the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF), the sports governing body. Over 30 countries regularly send teams to the World Nations Dragon Boat Racing Championships. At the Club Crew World Championships over 150 dragon boat clubs send over 5000 participants each year. In China alone there are about 50 million active dragon boaters, while around 300,000 Europeans regularly take part in races, and 100,000 in North America. There is more and more interest in Oceania and Africa as well as other parts of the world.

Dominant Countries

In terms of competition, China, Canada, Hungary, USA, Czech Republic, Australia, Germany, and Ukraine are among the nations with the best track record.

Fan Numbers

Given that dragon boating is deeply entrenched in Chinese tradition and is regularly staged at popular festivals, fan numbers are easily numbered in the billions in China alone. Around the world, races are increasingly popular partly due to the open air aspect of the sport and the 20 man crews, which fosters a sense of large comradery not seen in traditional boat racing.

Sponsorship

Sponsorships is generally linked to local business due to the commercial benefits provided by a large scale dragon boat event. There are nevertheless larger sponsors such as Pepsi, Ramada, and various car manufacturers.

Stars and Salaries

The large teams and huge number of crews make establishing stars nearly impossible in dragon boating. A professional scene is not yet well established so few competitors make enough money to live off their earnings.

Olympic Participation

Dragon boating is not an Olympics sport, though it is recognized by the International Olympic Committee, which hints at possible inclusion in the future as the sport’s popularity increases further.

Structure and Competition

Dragon boats are raced in a variety of disciplines, which differ based on the size of the paddling crew and the length of the race. Both men and women have their events as well as a mixed category. Skill levels are also taken into account with different categories ranging from premier, the top flight of dragon boating, to C teams. The World Nations Dragon Boat Racing Championships and Club Crew World Championships are the biggests events, though there are also a host of festivals taking place around the world all the time.

Broadcasting

Dragon boat races are not yet broadcast on television other than in China, where it is displayed more in a ceremonial capacity than as a sporting event.

12. Waterskiing

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Worldwide Representation

Waterskiing is governed by the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (IWWF) with 91 registered member countries. Waterskiing is mainly a recreational sport in coastal areas and on lakes and rivers. There are an estimated 11 million participants in North America alone where the sport is very popular, and over 1 million in Australia, another waterski hotspot.

Dominant Countries

The United States of America is by far the most dominant nation with an archive of World Championship wins. In Europe, France is a consistent performer as is Belarus, UK, Italy, and Czech Republic. Australia also features atop the results table in multiple disciplines.

Fan Numbers

In terms of fans, waterskiing remains a niche interest with a sizeable following in the USA and among participants. The open air aspect also fosters large audience on the water’s edge and other events in parallel.

Sponsorship

Nautique, a ski and board manufacturer, is a prominent sponsor of the sport. Sponsorship of events is location specific with grass roots endorsements due to the appeal of the events within the host community.

Stars and Salaries

The professional wing of the sport is too small to create stars of worldwide fame. The recreational aspect of the sport mean people watch and partake for the enjoyment rather than to see star athletes and their exploits.

Olympic Participation

Waterskiing is not currently an Olympic sport, though it was part of the 1972 games in Munich as an exhibition sport and is recognised by the International Olympic Committee. There are currently no plans to incorporate the sport into the Olympic games.

Structure and Competition

There are different water ski disciplines, including racing, show, tournament, and barefoot. Tournament incorporates slalom, jump, and trick heats. The World Championship, the Masters Water Ski Tournament, IWWF World Cup, and domestic championships are the major events on the waterskiing calendar.

Broadcasting

Waterskiing is broadcast via live streaming and very occasionally on television in the USA.

13. Kitesurfing

Worldwide Representation

Kitesurfing operates under the tutelage of World Sailing, though some events are governed by the Global Kitesports Association (GKA), Kiteboarding Riders United (KRU), and the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA). Out of WS 140 membership, 60 member nations are involved in the sport. There are an estimated 1.5 million people taking part in kitesurfing activities around the world.

Dominant Countries

USA, Brazil, UK, New Zealand, France, and The Netherlands are the dominant nations in terms of the top tier of kitesurfing competition.

Fan Numbers

Kitesurfing is a spectacular sport, particularly the freestyle discipline and there is considerable appeal around the world for those who are involved in the sport. Broadcast by extreme sports advocate Red Bull are helping popularize the sport. Kitesurfing benefits from a youthful appeal and there are signs that fans are growing in number each year.

Sponsorship

The kitesurfing industry is valued at around 250 million dollars per year. Red Bull are among the biggest sponsors in the sport.

Stars and Salaries

Carlos Mario, Aaron Hadlow, Jesse Richman, Liam Whaley, Lewis Crathern, Kevin Langeree, Hannah Whiteley, Annelous Lammerts, Mikaili Sol and Osaia Reding are among the most famous kitesurfing athletes.

Olympic Participation

For the London 2012 games, kitesurfing was initially awarded a slot instead of windsurfing, however, the decision was overturned. Efforts are ongoing to introduce it at the Tokyo games and beyond. IKA is recognised by the IOC, which is a positive sign for inclusion.

Structure and Competition

GKA organises a host of events in the expression disciplines including the Kitesurfing World Tour, and the Big Air World Tour. IKA manages all the racing disciplines with events such as the World Championships and European Championships. While the KRU organizes freestyle events.

Broadcasting

Kitesurfing is often streamed on Red Bull’s site as well as the various federations’ social media platforms. Currently, no kitesurfing appears on mainstream networks.

14. White Water Rafting

Worldwide Representation

White water rafting is governed under the International Rafting Federation (IRF) consisting of 60 member nations. While white water rafting is primarily a recreational activity, there is a competitive scene culminating in the World Rafting Championships staged each year.

Dominant Countries

Brazil, Argentina, Czech Republic, Japan, and Germany are among the best white water rafting nations in the world if we consider World Championship results. Recreational white water rafting is popular in the USA, Australia, and South America.

Fan Numbers

Competitive white water rafting does not have a huge fan following due to the niche nature of the sport. It boasts around 100,000 followers across various social media platforms.

Sponsorship

Sponsors are limited to local businesses and equipment manufacturers, and only rarely do big name companies engage with white water rafting for marketing purposes.

Stars and Salaries

White water rafting is too small to have big name stars and the team format means whole crews are celebrated for victories rather than individuals.

Olympic Participation

White water rafting is not an Olympic sport. There are no plans to introduce it currently.

Structure and Competition

White water rafting competition take places in four different disciplines; sprint, head-to-head, slalom, and downriver. The highest tier of racing is the World Rafting Championships, followed closely by the European Rafting Championships. A World Series is also being developed to expand the reach of the competitive aspects of the sport.

Broadcasting

Only the World Championship is televised and this only via the IRF stream for the event.

15. Power Boating

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Worldwide Representation

Organised under the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM), currently 62 countries are members.

Dominant Countries

France and Italy are the dominant forces in power boating with an overwhelming number of wins in the most popular boat categories such as F1H2O.

Fan Numbers

Millions of people regularly follow power boating events. Social media followers are numbered in the hundreds of thousands across all platforms. Events draw big spectator crowds along waterways, notably with F1H2o events in cities like London and Abu Dhabi.

Sponsorship

Boat sponsors are generally the biggest companies present in power boating, though brands like Etihad Airways occasionally take part.

Stars and Salaries

The sport is too small to have star drivers, though repeat winners of events have some clout within power boating circles.

Olympic Participation

Though not an Olympic sport, the IOC recognises the UIM giving credence to a potential addition in the future. Given that no motor sports are included in the Olympics, the chances are slim, but the IOC is constantly trying to evolve and welcome new sports.

Structure and Competition

Different styles of boat have specific races and events such as XCAT Racing, F1H2o, and Offshore Racing. Most classes have a regular season with a host of events culminating with a crowd champion.

Broadcasting

F1H2o is the most popular variant of power boating and is broadcast in over 20 countries around the world on networks such as Eurosport.

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