International Surfing Day: All you need to know about the sport's Olympic debut

A local surfer is seen in action with Mount Fuji in the background from the beach of Enoshima during the build up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on January 30, 2020 in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
A local surfer is seen in action with Mount Fuji in the background from the beach of Enoshima during the build up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on January 30, 2020 in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Today (June 20) is International Surfing Day, and to celebrate we take a look at some of the key facts about the sport and what to expect as it prepares to make its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

In the summer of 2021, surfing will make waves for the first time in history as one of five new sports to be introduced to the Olympic programme.

To commemorate International Surfing Day on 20 June, we give you the first glimpse at this new Olympic sport when it takes place on Tsurigasaki Beach next year.

The competition

Surfing is one of five additional sports proposed by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to bring more youthful and vibrant events and culture into the Olympic programme.

This is the first time, surfing has been part of the official programme. Its inclusion is more than a century in the making. Duke Kahanamoku, a three-time gold medallist in swimming, who is widely considered the father of modern surfing, first argued for the sport to be included in the Olympic programme in 1912.

A total of 20 men and 20 women will compete in Tokyo. Only two athletes per country can qualify per gender.

Competitors will use shortboards, with each riding no more than 25 waves per heat. Each surfer’s two highest-scoring waves from each heat are counted, with judges using a criteria that includes degree of difficulty and the types of manoeuvres completed.

Caroline Marks of USA competes in Miyazaki, Japan
Caroline Marks of USA competes in Miyazaki, Japan
2019 Getty Images

The place

If everything goes to according to plan, surfing will take place on Tsurigasaki Beach, located in Ichinomiya town on Chiba Prefecture's Pacific coastline. This beach draws many surfers in the early morning and late afternoon because it is easily accessible from central Tokyo. It is 90km south-east of the city, about an hour by express train from Tokyo Station.

Boasting a warm climate, it is one of Japan’s most popular surfing spots. In 2017, it attracted more than 300,000 surfers and beachgoers, up from 200,000 in 2012.

Last year, Tokyo 2020 organisers and the International Surfing Association (ISA) made history holding their first-ever Olympic test event at Tsurigasaki. The all-Japanese competition took place from 18–21 July.

The event was a rehearsal for the Olympic competition to take place in 2021.

The participants

Twenty-eight athletes have provisionally qualified to compete in Tokyo 2020 with 12 spots remaining to be decided in the future. These positions were going to be decided in the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games in May 2020, but the competition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One important thing to notice is that all earned slots are provisional until a final announcement after the closing of the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games. The slots are also subject to nomination by the respective NOC and the ISA Olympic Eligibility Requirements.

Eighteen spots were decided from the 2019 WSL Championship Tour.

Through the WSL Championship Tour, in the men's category, Japan's IGARASHI Kanoa, the Republic of South Africa's Jordy Smith, USA's Kolohe Andino and John John Florence, France's Jeremy Flores and Michel Bourez, Brazil’s Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira, and Australia’s Owen Wright and Julian Wilson have all earned their places.

In the women's category, France's Johanne Defay, Brazil's Tatiana Weston-Webb and Silvana Lima, Australia's Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore, Costa Rica’s Brisa Hennessy, and USA’s Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks have also earned spots.

For the Pan American Games, the first qualification slots were awarded to Peru’s Lucca Mesinas and Daniella Rosas in July 2019 in Lima.

The 2019 ISA World Surfing Games saw eight other surfers book their Olympic spots.

For the men, Japan’s MURAKAMI Shun, Portugal’s Frederico Morais, Morroco’s Ramzi Boukhiam, and New Zealand’s Billy Stairmand were classified for Tokyo.

The women's qualifiers were Japan’s MATSUDA Shino, the Republic of South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag, New Zealand’s Ella Williams, and Israel’s Anat Lelior.

Two host nation places were available for Japanese surfers, but because Igarashi, Murakami and Matsuda earned their places through the normal qualifying pathways, two additional places are up for grabs.

Seven women and five men will earn their spots at the final event in a date to be confirmed.

All of them will compete next year for the first medals in Olympic surfing history on Japan's beautiful coastline.

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