Surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

๐Ÿ•“   9 min read

โœ๏ธ ย ย Updated on 18th April 2024


Hi surfing friends, in today’s blog post I’ll be covering ‘Surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics’.

Whether you agreed with it or not, surfing made it’s official Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. So, to help all of you (and me) understand how it all worked… I put together this post so all the facts are one place.

Here’s a breakdown of the content we’re going to cover…

1. Surfing’s Olympic Journey
2. What Was The Qualification Process?
3. Where Did It Taking Place?
4. What Were The Competition Rules?
5. How Did The Heats Work?
6. How Was The Event Scored?
7. Who Competed?
8. What Was The Event Schedule?
9. Competition Results
10. 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 2020 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
  • 2021 – Surfing men’s and women’s competitive heats started on July 25th
  • 2021 – Surfing men’s and women’s final aired on July 27th

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 for future Olympic Games.

Surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics



2. What was the qualification process?

Now, the qualification process was a lengthy affair with 2020 being a complete right-off. It’s also a bit complicated so feel free to skip this bit if you want.

Here were the rules to a successful qualification…only two surfers per gender per National Olympic Committee (NOC) are allowed to qualify. All qualifications are earned on an individual basis and surfers had to have participated in both the 2019 and 2021 ISA World Surfing Games.

The IOC guidelines used a hierarchical order to determine each competitors successful qualification. Let’s explain this with an example, if a surfer qualifies via their final place in the 2019 WSL Championship Tour (which has Priority 1 status in the hierarchical order shown below), that surfer cannot then qualify again via any following events from Priority 2-5.

To help you visualise, here is a brief timeline to give you an idea of when all this happened.

Surfing at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics Qualification Timeline-min

Surfing Calendar


3. Where did it take place?

The event took place at 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 was certainly one of the more remote sporting venues.

There was some speculation an artificial wave pool could be used for the venue. This would have guaranteed waves and meant that each competitor got the same wave, but the IOC decided against it.

Surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics- location

2020 Tokyo Olympic Surfing Venue


4. What were the competition rules?

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




5. How did the heats work?

Surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics adopted the same four-person heat method used throughout the competitive surfing world. For the Olympics this method consisted 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 lasted between 20-30 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 wsan’t the case in the Olympics. Only the two best rides from each competitor will count. The winners were determined by a panel of judges.


6. How was the event scored?

The scoring wasย based on both the type and difficulty of manoeuvres performed. However, speed, power and the general flow of each move was also taken into account.

The highest scores were scored on bigger waves. The competitors needed to provide variety and innovation to score well. There was certainly a focus of quality over quantity in this area. The scoring criteria used 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 could have achieved a perfect 20/20 from their best two waves. Scores of 20 are rare and unfortunately we didn’t see any in this Olympics due to some fairly poor conditions.


7. Who competed?

Here is the full least of competitors alongside their current WSL rank (if they have one).

20 Male Contenders

  • ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  Brazil – Gabriel Medina (1) & Italo Ferreira (2)
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  Australia – Julian Wilson (17) & Owen Wright (20)
  • ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  USAย  – John John Florence (10) & Kolohe Andino (38)
  • ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  France – Jeremy Flores (25) & Michel Bourez (29)
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  Japan – Kanoa Igarashi (6) & Hiroto Ohhara
  • ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ชย  Peru – Miguel Tudela (52) & Lucca Mesinas
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡นย  Italy – Leonardo Fioravanti (17)
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ทย  Argentina – Leandro Usuna
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉย  Indonesia – Rio Waida
  • ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟย  New Zealand – Billy Stairmand
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฆย  Morroco – Ramzi Boukhiam
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ชย  Germany – Leon Glatzer
  • ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฑย  Chile – Manuel Selman
  • ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ทย ย Costa Rica – Carlos Munoz


20 Female Contenders

  • ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  USAย  – Carissa Moore (1) & Caroline Marks (6)
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  Australia – Sally Fitzgibbons (3) & Stephanie Gilmore (5)
  • ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  France – Johanne Defay (2) & Pauline Ado
  • ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  Brazil – Tatiana Weston-Webb (4) & Silvana Lima
  • ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ทย  Costa Rica – Brisa Hennessy (15) & Leilani McGonagle
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  Japan – Amuro Tsuzuki (18) & Mahina Maeda
  • ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡นย  Portugal – Yolanda Sequeria & Teresa Bonvalot
  • ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ชย  Peru – Sofia Mulanovich & Daniella Rosas
  • ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡จย  Ecuador – Dominic Barona
  • ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟย  New Zealand – Ella Williams
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆย  South Africa – Bianca Buitendag
  • ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑย  Israel – Anat Lelio




8. What was the event schedule?

The competition took place between the 24th of July and the 26th July 2021. Here’s a full breakdown of the event schedule with UK times (GMT+1).


Round 1 – Saturday 24th July (11pm – 5.40am)

First two competitors qualify for Round 3, bottom two qualifiers have to surf again in Round 2.

Men’s Heat 1 – 11.00pm –ย  Ferreira ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Fioravanti ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡นย  / Ohhara ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Usuna ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ท
Men’s Heat 2 – 11.40pm – Igarashi ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Flores ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Tudela ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ชย  / Stairmand ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ
Men’s Heat 3 – 12.20am – Andino ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Wilson ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  / Mesinas ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ชย  / Waida ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉ
Men’s Heat 4 – 1.00am – Florence ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Wright ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  / Selman ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฑย  / Boukhiam ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฆ
Men’s Heat 5 – 1.40am – Medina ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Bourez ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Glatzer ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ชย  / Munoz ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ท

Women’s Heat 1 – 2.20am – Moore ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Bonvalot ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡นย  / Rosas ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ชย  / Barona ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡จ
Women’s Heat 2 – 3.00am – Fitzgibbons ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  / Hennessy ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Maeda ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Buitendag ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ
Women’s Heat 3 – 3.40am – Gilmore ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  / Lima ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Ado ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Lelior ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑ
Women’s Heat 4 – 4.20am – Weston-Webb ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Defay ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท / Tsuzuki ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Mulanovich ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ช
Women’s Heat 5 – 5.00am – Marks ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Hopkins ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡นย  / McGonagle ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Williams ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ


Round 2 – Saturday 24th July (5.40am – 8.20am)

First three competitors qualify for Round 3, bottom two qualifiers are knocked out.

Men’s Heat 1 – 5.40am – Florence ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Waida ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉย  / Stairmand ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟย  / Selman ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฑย  / Munoz ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ท
Men’s Heat 2 – 6.20am – Usuna ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Flores ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Fioravanti ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡นย  / Wilson ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  / Glatzer ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช

Women’s Heat 1 – 7.00am – Tsuzuki ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Buitendag ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆย  / Maeda ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  /ย  ย McGonagle ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Barona ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡จ
Women’s Heat 2 – 7.40am – Hopkins ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡นย  / Ado ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Mulanovich ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ชย  / Lelior ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฑย  / Rosas ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ช


Round 3 – Sunday 25th July (11pm – 8.36am)

First competitor from each heat qualifies for the quarter-finals, bottom qualifier is knocked out.

Women’s Heat 1 – 11.00pm – Gilmore ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  / Buitendag ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ
Women’s Heat 2 – 11.36pm – Defay ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Hopkins ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น
Women’s Heat 3 – 12.12am – Hennessy ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Williams ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ
Women’s Heat 4 – 12.48am – Marks ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Maeda ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต
Women’s Heat 5 – 1.24am – Moore ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Mulanovich ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ช
Women’s Heat 6 – 2.00am – Lima ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Bonvalot ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น
Women’s Heat 7 – 2.36am – Weston-Webb ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Tsuzuki ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต
Women’s Heat 8 – 3.12am – Fitzgibbons ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  / Ado ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท

Men’s Heat 1 – 3.48am – Igarashi ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Waida ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉ
Men’s Heat 2 – 4.24am – Andino ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Florence ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
Men’s Heat 3 – 5.00am – Bourez ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Boukhiam ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฆ
Men’s Heat 4 – 5.36am – Medina ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Wilson ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ
Men’s Heat 5 – 6.12am – Ferreira ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Stairmand ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ
Men’s Heat 6 – 6.48am – Ohhara ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Tudela ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ช
Men’s Heat 7 – 7.24am – Mesinas ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ชย  / Fioravanti ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น
Men’s Heat 8 – 8.00am – Wright ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บย  / Flores ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท




Quarter-Finals – Monday 26th July (11pm – 3.48am)

First competitor from each heat qualifies for the semi-finals, bottom qualifier is knocked out.

Men’s Heat 1 – 11.00pm – Igarashi ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Andino ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
Men’s Heat 2 – 11.36pm – Bourez ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Medina ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท
Men’s Heat 3 – 12.12am – Ferreira ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Ohhara ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต
Men’s Heat 4 – 12.48am – Mesinas ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ชย  / Wright ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ

Women’s Heat 1 – 1.24am – Buitendag ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆย  / Hopkins ๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น
Women’s Heat 2 – 2.00am – Hennessy ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Marks ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
Women’s Heat 3 – 2.36am – Moore ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Lima ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท
Women’s Heat 4 – 3.12am – Tsuzuki ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Fitzgibbons ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ


Semi-Finals – Monday 26th July (3.48am – 6.12am)

First competitor from each heat qualifies for the gold medal match, bottom qualifier qualifies for the bronze medal match.

Men’s Heat 1 – 3.48am – Igarashi ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Medina ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท
Men’s Heat 2 – 4.24 am – Ferreira ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Wright ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ

Women’s Heat 1 – 5.00am – Buitendag ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆย  / Marks ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
Women’s Heat 2 – 5.36am – Moore ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Tsuzuki ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต


Bronze Medal Match – Monday 26th July (6.16am – 7.46am)

Men’s Bronze Medal Match – 6.16am – Medina ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ทย  / Wright ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ
Women’s Bronze Medal Match – 7.01am – Marks ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธย  / Tsuzuki ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต


Gold Medal Match – Monday 26th July (7.46am – 8.31am)

Men’s Gold Medal Match – 7.46am – Igarashi ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ตย  / Ferreira ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท
Women’s Gold Medal Match – 8.31am – Buitendag ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆย  / Moore ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ




9. Competition Results

Here are the final results, the medallists for the first ever Men’s and Women’s surfing competition at the Olympics.

  1. Gold – Ferreira ๐Ÿฅ‡ ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท
  2. Silver – Igarashi ๐Ÿฅˆ ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต
  3. Bronze – Wright ๐Ÿฅ‰ ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ


  1. Gold – Moore ๐Ÿฅ‡ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
  2. Silver – Buitendag ๐Ÿฅˆ ๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ
  3. Bronze – Tsuzuki ๐Ÿฅ‰ ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต


11. Olympics Debate

Now, we canโ€™t go this far without talking about the divide surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has caused within the wider surfing community.

On the one hand; surfing at the Olympics was viewed as a good thing. Exposing surfers at the top of their game showed the world how surfing has progressed. Some of the people in this camp would probably have no problem calling surfing a sport.

On the other hand,ย surfing to some is a pastime – it canโ€™t and shouldnโ€™t be bound by competitions, rules and regulations. For many surfers (including myself), surfing is an escape that 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 enjoyed being in the sea. But, all that being said – I tuned in for a number of the heats during the event and found it super interesting. I think I still view surfing as a hobby and pastime but now have a greater appreciation for those doing it at the highest level.





So thatโ€™s it guys, hopefully this post helped you through ‘Surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics’ and enjoyed its Olympic debut.

Let me know in the comments below if you watched any of the event yourself and what you thought of the whole thing. Also, feel free to vent your frustrations if you don’t think it should even be in the Olympics – be great to get both sides of the argument.

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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