Surfing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics

๐Ÿ•“   6 min read

โœ๏ธ ย ย Updated on 25th April 2021


Believe it or not, ‘Surfing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics’ was actually agreed in the not too distant past. More specifically, the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan in 2021.

This will be the first time surfing has ever featured in an Olympic Games. For that reason, I thought I’d put all the facts in one place.

1. Surfing’s Olympic Journey
2. The Competition Itself
3. Current Standings
4. Olympics Debate

Let’s get into it!


1. Surfing’s Olympic Journey

Now, the below timeline does not in any way do justice to the huge amount of work done to get surfing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. But, it does give a quick overview of the key moments that made it happen…

  • 1920’s – Suggested to be included in the Olympic Games by Duke Kahanamoku
  • 1994 – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially recognised the International Surfing Association (ISA) as surfing’s international body
  • 2013 – Thomas Bach responded positively to ISA President Fernando Aguerre proactive campaign to include surfing at the Olympics
  • 2013 – Thomas Bach made President of IOC
  • 2015 – Surfing unanimously voted to be included in 2019 Pan-American games in Peru
  • 2016 – IOC decide to include surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
  • 2019 – Surfing successfully staged at the Pan-American games in Peru
  • 2020 – Olympics rescheduled for 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic

It’s definitely who you know and not what you know. This was a dream of Fernando Aguerre’s for over 25 years and he made it a reality. His next task will be maintaining surfing’s status as an Olympic sport.

Surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics



2. The Competition Itself

Where will it be held?

The contest site has been confirmed as Tsurigasaki Beach also known as Shidashita Beach. The beach is located on the South East coast of the nearby region Chiba. It’s around 50 miles outside of Toyko so is certainly one of the more remote sporting venues.

There was some speculation an artificial wave pool could be used for the venue, although all parties have now confirmed the competition will take place in the ocean.

Surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics- location

2020 Tokyo Olympic Surfing Venue

When will it be held?

The competition is scheduled to take place between the 23rd of July and the 8th August 2021.


How many surfers will compete?

The event is limited to 20 men and 20 women athletes.


What types of surfers can compete?

The competition is currently limited to high performance shortboards only. Longboarding, bodyboarding and stand up paddle boarding (SUP) are a possibilities to feature in future Olympic Games.


What is the qualification process?

Now, the qualification process has been going on for some time. Here is a breakdown of the timeline…

Surfing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics Qualification Timeline-min

This means we’ve only got the 2021 ISA World Surfing Games left for competitors to clinch those final Olympic spots.

Only two surfers per gender per National Olympic Committee (NOC) are allowed to qualify. All qualifications are earned on an individual basis. The IOC guidelines will be using a hierarchical order to determine qualification.

This basically means if a surfer qualifies via the first hierarchical order event (priority 1 in the table below) they cannot then qualify via any events lower (priority 2, 3, 4, 5 in the table below) in the hierarchical order. Surfers must participate in both the 2019 and 2021 ISA World Surfing Games to be eligible for Olympic qualification.

The hierarchical order and a description of how to qualify is as follows;

Scroll down for the ‘Current Standings’ at the bottom of the post.


What are the competition rules?

  1. Each wave can only have one rider
  2. The athlete closest to the peak of the wave as it forms has the right of way
  3. The competitor who has right of way can lose their right of way if they do not proceed to ride the wave
  4. Any interference with a competitor who has right of way can result in an interference penalty and loss of points
  5. Two interferences during a heat often leads to disqualification


How do the heats work?

Surfing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics will be adopting the same four-man heat method used throughout the competitive surfing world. For the Olympics this method will consist of four athletes competing at a time. Out of these four, only the best two will proceed to the next round.

The length of the heats depend on the conditions but sessions likely last between 20-25 minutes. In World Surfing League (WSL) competitions, if no one catches a wave during the first 10 minutes of a heat, the judges have the power to restart the heat โ€“ but this is yet to be the case for the Olympics. Only the two best rides from each competitor will count. The winners are determined by a panel of judges.


How will it be scored?

The scoring will primarily be based on both the type and difficulty of manoeuvres performed. However, speed, power and the general flow of each move will also be taking into account.

The highest scores are likely to be scored on bigger waves. The competitors need to provide variety and innovation to score well. There is certainly a focus of quality over quantity in this arena. The details of the exact scoring criteria will be released closer to the event but current WSL competitions use the following quality levels as a guideline;

0.0 โ€“ 1.9 = Poor
2.0 โ€“ 3.9 = Fair
4.0 โ€“ 5.9 = Average
6.0 โ€“ 7.9 = Good
8.0 โ€“ 10 = Excellent

Using this quality level structure, surfers can achieve a perfect 20/20 from their best two waves. Although 20/20 is rare it can certainly be achieved when the pool of athletes is at such a high calibre, pool pun fully intended. This is likely to be the scoring structure used in the Olympics.


3. Current Standings

Male Contenders

Qualified via the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour:

  • Gabriel Medina ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท [BRA]
  • Italo Ferreira ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท [BRA]
  • Kolohe Andino ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ [USA]
  • John John Florence ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ [USA]
  • Owen Wright ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ [AUS]
  • Julian Wilson ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ [AUS]
  • Michel Bourez ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท [FRA]
  • Jeremy Flores ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท [FRA]
  • Jordy Smith ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ [SAF]
  • Kanoa Igarashi ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต [JPN]


Qualified through the 2019 Pan American Games:

  • Lucca Mesinas ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ช [PER]


Qualified through the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games:

  • Frederico Morais ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น [POR]
  • Ramzi Boukhiam ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฆ [MOR]
  • Shun Murakami ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต [JPN]
  • Billy Stairmand ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ [NZL]


Qualified through the 2021 ISA World Surfing Games:

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Female Contenders

Qualified via the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour:

  • Carissa Moore ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ [USA]
  • Caroline Marks ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ [USA]
  • Stephanie Gilmore ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ [AUS]
  • Sally Fitzgibbons ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ [AUS]
  • Tatiana Weston-Webb ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท [BRA]
  • Silvana Lima ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท [BRA]
  • Johanne Defay ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท [FRA]
  • Brisa Hennessy ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ท [CRI]


Qualified through the 2019 Pan American Games:

  • Daniella Rosas ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ช [PER]


Qualified through the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games:

  • Bianca Buitendag ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ [SAF]
  • Shino Matsuda ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต [JPN]
  • Anat Lelior ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ [ISR]
  • Ella Williams ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ [NZL]


Qualified through the 2021 ISA World Surfing Games:

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Olympics Debate

Now, we canโ€™t go this far without talking about the divide surfing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics has caused within the wider surfing community.

On the one hand; surfing at the Olympics is a good thing. Exposing surfers at the top of their game to show the world how surfing has progressed. Some of this community would have no problem calling surfing a sport, but…

On the other hand; surfing to some is a lifestyle – it canโ€™t and shouldnโ€™t be bound by competitions, rules and regulations. For many surfers (including myself), surfing is a favoured past time. It helps us literally and metaphorically get away from it all. I’d say this community would have no problem calling surfing a hobby.

I didnโ€™t start surfing because I followed a sport, I started surfing because it was fun and I liked being outside in nature. But, all that being said – I’ll definitely be watching how surfing gets on during the Olympics.

Iโ€™d love to hear what some of you guys think about it all in the comments below!



So thatโ€™s it guys, hopefully you know a bit more about ‘Surfing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics’ and can look forward to its Olympic debut in 2021.

Iโ€™ll be trying to keep this post as up to date as I can if any news updates come out from the IOC or ISA in regards to the event.

As always, be sure to follow on the usual socials below to keep up to date with the latest surfing content!


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