Olympic Surfing: Everything You Need To Know Before Watching

Everyone is gearing up for the upcoming Olympic games that will be held in Tokyo, Japan. Understandably, people around the globe are excited to see their country’s athletes compete in different events and bring home gold medals. In addition to that, there are sports that will be making their debut in the Olympics. According to Iberdrola, the new sports include baseball, karate, sport climbing, skateboarding, and surfing.

The new sports added to the Olympic Games are part of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) reformation plan to include urban sports and youth-focused events, per Olympics. The decision to add surfing to the Olympics came in 2016. Surfing has been around for hundreds of years, but it is only now that it will be included in the Olympics. However, the suggestion of including the sport in the Games came way back in 1912 when Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian swimmer and the “Father of Modern Surfing,” accepted his gold medal and mentioned surfing (via Olympics.)

Surfing in the Olympics

For years, the International Surfing Association (ISA) has been proposing for the sport of surfing to be included in the Olympic Games. Back in 2016, a petition for the sport’s inclusion was posted on Facebook in order to gather supporters in hopes of the IOC heeding their request, per Surfer Today.

Based on the IOC’s guidelines, sports that are included in the Olympics must have athletes hailing from at least four continents and 70 countries. Throughout the globe, there are roughly 20 to 30 million surfers, making it one of the most popular water sports. Back in 2016, surfing was almost included in the Rio Olympics. However, it was rugby and golf that made it through.

Finally, the sport will be debuting in the Tokyo Olympic Games. Thomas Bach, the IOC president, said, “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,” (via Wavelength.) For the upcoming games, surfers will be making use of a shortboard, but there is a possibility of adding other formats in future Games.

Natural surfing environment

Upon the announcement of surfing being included in the Tokyo Olympics, there was a debate about whether to use a wave pool or the ocean. Ultimately, the natural environment won. IOC’s sports director Kit McConnell said, “We are looking at a natural beach for surfing. Japan has a number of strong surfing areas and strong existing surfing culture,” (via Wavelength.) The surfing event for the Tokyo Olympics will be held at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, located about 90 minutes by car from the Olympic Village.

Tsurigasaki Beach is a popular surfing destination in Japan and has hosted surfing competitions in the past. In preparation for the Olympics, the IOC has been working with the ISA to provide a nice environment for both athletes and spectators that will create a “full-on beach scene,” according to Surfer‘s interview with ISA President Fernando Aguerre. “It will include the surf events of course, but also organic food, yoga in the morning — it will be a place where you want to hang out,” Aguerre said.

As additional preparation, students, surfers, and other volunteers held a clean-up drive at the beach in 2019. But it wasn’t just an ordinary day of cleaning. Organizers made it into a friendly competition to see which team can get the most points based on the type of trash they collect, per Japan Times. All in all, they were able to come up with 45 kilos of trash.

Surfing competition format

The initial surfing event will consist of three rounds, with 20 men and 20 women competing. The first round will have four surfers going head-to-head, the second will have five surfers, and the rest of the rounds will have surfers competing one-on-one. Afterward, three finals events will take place, with each heat lasting 30 minutes (via Olympics.) In the time provided, surfers must catch as many waves as they can but only the top two waves will count toward the final score. In total, the surfing competition will have 23 heats to see which surfer brings home the gold medal.

There isn’t a strict schedule regarding the exact days when the surfing competition will be held, as it will be dependent on the wave conditions at the time, but the surfing association is aiming to complete all of the events over the course of four days, per Surfer Today.

How will surfers be scored?

Judging for surfing in the Olympic Games will be done by a panel of surfing experts representing different parts of the globe. In a statement released by Aguerre on the ISA website, he said that the judging panel will ensure the process will include “integrity, fairness, and professionalism” during the Olympic Games.

The judges will analyze the surfers and give scores on a scale of one to 10, with up to two decimal places. Surfers will then have their two highest scores combined to come up with their total points, according to The Olympics. The criteria for judging consists of five elements: degree of difficulty, innovation, variety, the combination of maneuvers, and speed and power. ISA’s technical director, Erik Krammer, says that surfers will be taking a sport to a higher level in the Olympics. “Everything is really connected, together all the elements of the criteria just reflect what the general public thinks is good surfing. That’s what the judges want to see and that’s what the contest wants to see.”

Who will be competing?

All 40 surfers — 20 men and 20 women — who will be competing at the Tokyo Olympics have been named, and they represent 17 countries around the world, including the U.S., Brazil, France, Germany, Peru, New Zealand, and Japan, among others. The decision was based on four qualifiers — 2019 ISA Games, 2019 WSL Championship Tour, 2019 Pan American Games, and 2020 ISA Games, according to Wavelength.

There are already medal favorites among the surfers heading into the Tokyo Olympics. One of them is Brazil’s Gabriel Medina, who has two World Titles under his belt (per World Surf League) and is coached by former pro surfer Andy King. Another surfer to look out for is Kanoa Igarashi from Japan, who has been surfing since he was 3 years old. “I was born for this,” he said regarding the sport (per Olympics.)

For the women, one of the favorites is Stephanie Gilmore, a seven-time world champion surfer from Australia nicknamed “Happy Gilmore” for her winning smile. In an interview with the Olympic Channel, she said, “Winning is wonderful and I love it. I love holding the trophy and I’m competitive as hell.” U.S.A.’s Carissa Moore, who started surfing at 5 years old, is also a medal favorite. She has won several competitions and was named Rookie of the Year when she was 17 years old, per Red Bull.

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