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ISA adds India to its member nations

Matt Banting at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast. Surfing's international appeal spread even farther this spring. Kirstin Scholtz/ASP

The International Surfing Association has added four new member nations in the past two months, the latest moves by surfing's world governing body in its long-term push to qualify for Olympic inclusion.

Ghana, Hungary, Kiribati and, most recently, India joined the ISA this spring to give the organization 67 countries, moving the association closer to its goal of 75 member nations. "And we have four or five others on the front burner," ISA president Fernando Aguerre told ESPN in a phone interview from Cabo San Lucas.

Each new member has its demographic benefits: Ghana is the eighth African nation to join, Hungary gives the ISA five landlocked members, Kiribati furthers the sport's official presence among the South Pacific islands and India brings one of the world's largest population bases. Still, said Aguerre, "The most important part is not the size of the country, it's to bring the spirit of surfing around the world."

The ISA's many ongoing missions include encouraging its nations to teach and coach the sport, to advocate for environmental preservation and to use surfing as a humanitarian vehicle. But its most politically significant role is to serve as a resource and liaison for the International Olympic Committee. Aguerre, 53, remains "firmly convinced" surfing will be added to the Olympics in his lifetime. Yet with the IOC already operating at its 28-sport and 10,500-athlete capacities for the Summer Games, winning inclusion is largely out of the ISA's hands right now.

"That means the only way you can bring in a new sport is to take a sport out, and no sport wants to be taken out of the Olympics," said Aguerre, who co-founded Reef in 1984 and was elected president of the ISA in 1994. He continues to work on a volunteer basis for the organization.

Surfing used to be considered a "nonviable" Olympic sport due to its need for waves and the fact that not all host nations have coastlines or rideable surf. But with the advancements in manmade waves, and the vastness of surfing's reach, Aguerre is optimistic for future consideration by the IOC.

He stressed that the ISA is "not in a drafting mode" when it comes to adding new members. "We're not out soliciting countries," he said. However, he recognizes that with each new member, the association grows stronger.

ISA members typically pay between $50 and $1,000 in annual dues, depending upon their level of involvement with the annual World Surfing Games -- which help determine a country's surfing power. Nations that finish in the top 16 pay $1,000 a year, nations that place 17th or lower pay $500, and nations that don't participate pay $50 a year. Aguerre said about 35 nations competed last year. This year's Billabong ISA World Surfing Games are set for June 25 to July 2 in Panama.