Surfing at the Olympic Games became official when the inclusion of five new sports for Tokyo 2020 – surfing, skateboarding, sports climbing, baseball and karate was announced in Rio in 2016.
“We want to take sport to the youth… youth-focused events that are popular in Japan and will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games,” explained IOC president Thomas Bach when the announcement was made.
Surfing, in its inaugural Olympic appearance in Tokyo 2020 will be shortboarding, although there is speculation that it might broaden to other formats such as SUP or longboarding in later games.
While the father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku won Olympic Gold in 100m freestyle swimming at Stockholm 1912, up until now the closest surfing has got was the inclusion of other ‘action sports’ such at BMX racing, or snowboarding in the Winter Olympics.
With surfing’s historic Olympic debut shortly upon us, there is still a bit of confusion as to how it will all work.
Will it be in a wave pool like the Surf Ranch? Or in the sea? The sea. Tsurigasaki Beach, Chiba, to be precise.
Will the GOAT Kelly Slater be there? Nope.
Given the Olympic’s restrictions on branding and advertising, will surfers will be on logo-less white boards? Pretty much.
Who are the medal favourites? Ferreira, Medina, Smith will be the top seeds for men, Moore, Marks, Gilmore for women.
What will the waves be like?
The decision to hold the Olympic surfing event in the ocean and reject relatively recent advances in wavepool hardware like the WSL’s Slater Surf Ranch or WaveGarden, was met with mixed emotions in the surf community. On the one hand, the ocean showcases the true spirit of the surfing lifestyle much better than the mechanical pool. On the other hand, the venue is home to decidedly average quality waves and the timing is a touch early for typhoon season.
Expect 1-3ft beachbreak peaks in warm water, not totally dissimilar to well-known event venues such as Huntington Beach.
For a full report on Chiba’s Tsurigasaki Beach in break breakdown with local Ben Wei, head here.
Full list of surfers competing at Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Qualification for surfing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been a relatively complicated process, taking in the WSL Championship Tour, 2019 ISA Games, 2019 Pan American Games and 2020 ISAs.
20 men and 20 women will compete, with a maximum of 2 surfers per nation per gender (i.e. 4 maximum over both categories.
Via 2019 WSL CT: Ferreira & Medina (BRA); Wilson & Wright (AUS); Andino & Florence (USA); Flores & Bourez (FRA); Smith (RSA); Igarashi (JPN).
2019 Pan American Games: Lucca Mesinas (PER)*
2019 ISA Games Miyazaki: Boukhiam (MAR)*; Murakami (JPN)* Morais (POR)* Stairmand (NZL)*
5 further spots to be allocated at 2020 ISA Games.
Via 2019 WSL CT: Gilmore & Fitzgibbons (AUS); Moore & Marks (USA); Weston-Webb & Lima (BRA); Defay (FRA); Hennessy (CRI)
2019 Pan American Games: Daniela Rosas (PER)*
2019 ISA Games Miyazaki: Buitendag (RSA)*; Matsuda (JPN)* Anat Lelior (ISR)* Williams (NZL)*
7 further spots to be allocated at 2020 ISA Games
* Provisionally qualified assuming 2 surfers from same nation don’t secure qualification spots at 2020 ISA Games
Who’s Missing out?
Most notably Kelly Slater who failed to secure the 2nd place American slot on the CT despite John John Florence being injured and missing over half the season.
Elsewhere, Felipe Toledo, world no.4 in 2019 misses out as only the 3rd highest placed Brazilian.
Fewer glaring omissions on the Women’s side, although Lakey Peterson, 3rd in 2019 CT also misses out as only the 3rd placed American.
Historically, elite competitive surfing has been much more an individual rather than national team type of sport. In fact, interest in the ISA’s (nations) from top surfers only really came post-Olympic status/compulsory attendance for the 2019 ISA’s.
As such, national team spirit among some elite surfing nations varies greatly. Countries like Brazil, who are strong Men’s medal favourites for Tokyo 2020, traditionally get behind their compatriots at any level of surfing competition, and the Olympics is no exception.
By contrast, it was reported that Australians Julian Wilson and Owen Wright elected to leave the competition site rather than stay and support their compatriots when the Women were called on at the 2019 ISA Games in Miyazaki, and even asked the Team Aus officials for lunch money as they left the beach.
With the next summer Olympics being held in Paris in 2024, the announcement has been made, after much wrangling from potential venues Lacanau, Biarritz and Hossegor, that the surfing will be held at Teahupoo, Tahiti, arguably the world’s most spectacular competition venue.
If Tokyo 2020 is the landmark event, Teahupoo 2024 has an excellent chance of being one of the most spectacular competitions in the entire games.
Cover photo: Dane Gillett (owner of Splash Guest House Japan)