The world's top surfers will celebrate their sport's Olympic debut by competing on Japan's spectacular Pacific coastline.
Surfing is one of five additional sports proposed by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to bring more youthful and vibrant activities into the Olympic programme. In 2016, its inclusion was approved by the International Olympic Committee.
The competition will take place on the open ocean, where the condition of the waves, the direction and strength of the wind, and the height of the tides will all be factors. No two waves are alike, making surfing a competition against nature as much as it is a contest between the competing athletes.
The art of riding the waves on a board is said to date back to ancient Polynesians living in Hawaii and Tahiti. Surfing was popularised by Duke Kahanamoku, from Hawaii, who won three gold medals in swimming at the Stockholm 1912 and Antwerp 1920 Games when competing for the USA. Kahanamoku is considered ‘the father of modern surfing'.
Surfing as a sport is broadly divided according to the size of the board used. The longboard is around nine feet (2.7m) in length and more buoyant than the shortboard, which first appeared around 1970 and is approximately six feet (1.8m) in length. The shortboard has a pointed tip which aids turning, is quicker to manoeuvre and tends to be receptive to more dynamic techniques. Shortboards will be used at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where 20 men and 20 women will compete in separate competitions.
International Federation: International Surfing Association
- Shortboard (Men/Women)
Searching for speed, power and flow
Each wave can only have one rider. Just as a wave is about to crash down, a ‘peak’ forms at its top. The athlete closest when the peak forms has the right to ride it; this is called ‘right of way’.
Interfering with a competitor who has right of way can incur a penalty and a loss of points. However, even if a competitor has right of way, they can lose it if they do not proceed to ride the wave or stop paddling on the way to do so.
Surfers also compete against each other when on the water. They may feign disinterest in a wave then suddenly ride it, or begin paddling but not actually proceed.
In many international competitions, the method of ‘four-men heat’ is adopted. Four athletes will compete at a time, with the best two proceeding to the next round. The length of a heat depends on the condition of the waves and lasts about 20 to 35 minutes. The athletes will ride the wave in that time, and their two highest scores will count toward the results.
A panel of judges determines the winners, with scoring based on the type and difficulty of manoeuvres performed, along with speed, power and flow. Rather than riding as many waves as possible or performing a large number of manoeuvres, a variety of dynamic and innovative manoeuvres on large waves will bring the highest scores.
These moves include the ‘360’, where the surfer rides up to the top of the wave, fully spins once and then lands; and the ‘aerial’, where the surfer jumps off the wave into the air and lands without breaking form. Manoeuvres have no prescribed scores, and accumulating most points depends on skill, daring, adapting to the changing sea conditions and outsmarting rivals in order to catch the best waves.
Ruling the waves at Tokyo 2020
USA, the spiritual home of the sport, will be eager to make its mark in this inaugural Olympic competition. Australia is also renowned for its strong surfers while, in Brazil, the sport is second only to football in popularity.
Athletes from these three countries have been leading contenders in the World Surf League, notably John John Florence (USA) who was men's champion in 2016 and 2017; and the Brazilian pairing of Gabriel Medina and Adriano De Souza, who were victorious in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
The women's World Surf League championship has been dominated by Australian surfers, with Tyler Wright, Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons ending the 2017 season in first, second and third positions.
Who will be crowned the first ever Olympic Surfing champion at Tsurigasaki Beach?
As of 1 Dec. 2018
- Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach