A Complete Guide To Olympic Surfing

The time is fast approaching when surfing alongside other extreme sports such as skateboarding and sport climbing will make its debut at the 2020 Olympics in Japan. That’s right. A unanimous decision was made in 2016 during the 129th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Rio de Janeiro to include surfing in the Olympics.

It would be fair to say that this decision has the global surf community divided. To many, surfing has its history deeply rooted in the counterculture and is fundamentally anti-establishment. Placing the sport within the grips of one of the most mainstream sporting events seems disingenuous. Some might say “selling out”.

olympic surfing

To others it’s an opportune moment to cast the sport into the wider limelight and give it the exposure it requires to continue to grow. The sport will ostensibly receive more funding and will attract more young people looking to learn to surf. This growth will ensure many more people can earn a living from the sport they love, which will ultimately create a win-win situation.

Regardless of which side of the debate you sit on, surfing will be featuring in the 2020 Summer Olympics. Whether the event is one which cements a permanent position at the Olympics in the future will very much depend on the outcome of the contest in Japan.

Where will the competition be hosted?

Contrary to some rumours which have suggested that Kelly Slater has been collaborating with organisers in Japan to build a wave pool for the event, the competition will in fact be hosted in the ocean. It will be held Shidashita Beach, also known as Shida which is in Chiba, 40 miles outside of Tokyo.

What’s the wave like at Shida?

surfing at shida

Shida is a beach break which occasionally barrels at lower tides. It’s certainly not a revered surf break. Magic Seaweed describe it as anything but ‘clean’ due to the industrial waste that pollutes the water. There is a lot of research and analysis that goes into deciding the most suitable location for a surf contest. After reviewing data dating back decades, Chief Meteorologist Mark Willis and his team decided Shida was the best pick.

Willis said: “We identified that average surf heights at Shida are in the thigh-waist-chest high range during the dates of interest (July 24th – August 9th). In addition, the climatological trend is for surf heights to gradually increase from July 24 to August 9, as the statistical chances of seeing typhoon swells increases.”

What will the waiting period be?

To ensure that the contest capitalizes on the best possible waves there will be a 16 day waiting period. Once the event commences it’ll take 2 days to complete.

How many athletes will compete?

20 men and 20 women in a shortboard contest only. If Olympic surfing continues there may be provision to add in other disciplines such as longboarding.

How do athletes qualify?

So here’s the rub. It’s quite complex so bear with us. The first 18 to qualify will come from the 2019 WSL Championship Tour: First 10 eligible men and first 8 eligible women. The next 10 will come from the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games: First 4 eligible men and first 6 eligible women.

The next 8 will come from 2019 ISA World Surfing Games: 4 men and 4 women selected based on their continent. Top finishing eligible surfer of each gender from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania. The next 2 will come from 2019 Pan American Games: First eligible man and first eligible woman in the surfing competitions.

The final 2 spots will be reserved will be reserved for a man and women from the host nation. Should athletes from Japan qualify regularly, their slots will be reallocated to the highest ranked eligible surfers from the 2020 World Surfing Games.

What’s the competition structure?

The contest will use a four-man heat structure. The best two surfers of each heat will continue to the next round. Each heat will run for 20 to 25 minutes, with the top 2 scores being used for each surfer.

Only one surfer may ride a wave at any given time. The surfer who is closest to the peak has right of way. Any interference with the surfer who has right of way, can incur a penalty and result in point deductions.

A panel of judges will determine each riders performance from wave to wave, scoring from one to ten with two decimals. Scores are based on the difficulty of manoeuvres performed in accordance the judging parameters outlined by the World Surf League. This includes commitment and degree of difficulty, innovative and progressive maneuvers, combination of major maneuvers, variety of maneuvers, speed, power and flow.

Who’s surfing in it?

filipe toledo

Most of the big dogs have expressed their commitment to surf in the 2020 Olympics. So far  some of the athletes include: Adriano de Souza, Kanoa Igarashi, Filipe Toledo, Coco Ho, Sage Erickson, Tyler Wright, Tatiana Weston-Webb, and more.

What future does Olympic surfing have?

The main reason for surfing being introduced to the Olympics is to help keep the Games relevant to the Millennial generation. If Olympic surfing and other sports like skateboarding fail to stoke the interests of younger spectators, then surfing’s place in future Games may be up in the air. With that said, surfing has recently been shortlisted for the 2024 Games in Paris, so who knows?

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