Surfing In The Olympics – What You Should Know

surfing olympics

On 3 August, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro during the 129th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), members voted unanimously to approve surfing as an Olympic sport for the 2020 Tokyo Games. All ninety members of the IOC, representing countries worldwide, voted in favour of including surfing in the 2020 Games together with skateboarding, baseball, karate and climbing.

Whilst we wait for the 2020 Games, here are some facts you should know about surfing in the Olympics.

Surfing, along with the other new sports, have only been approved for Tokyo 2020. If surfing at the Olympics fails in some way, it may be discontinued.

  • Fernando Aguerre, President of the International Surfing Association, was leader of the push to include surfing at the Olympics.

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  • Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic medal swimmer in 1912 and 1920 and the man considered the founder of modern surfing wrote in 1968:

“Even as early as that day [1918], I was already thinking of surfing in terms of how, one day, it could become one of the events in the Olympic games… I still believe surfing will one day be recognized, voted in, and accepted.”


  • The vote to include surfing at the Olympics began in 2014 with the approval of the IOC’s strategic road map giving Organising Committees the flexibility to propose new sports for their edition of the Games. This was intended to put more focus on innovation, flexibility and youth in the Olympic programme. Tokyo 2020, the first Organising Committee able to take advantage of the change, submitted its proposal for the five new sports to the IOC in September 2015.


  • The IOC has two principles for Olympic qualification. They want to have the best athletes and they want the widest number of countries represented. This means that surfing at the Olympics will be very different from the World Surf League (WSL) and International Surfing Association (ISA) Championships.


  • The total number of surfing competitors will be twenty men and twenty women, all short-boarders. Categories will be separated by gender. More categories may be added at later Olympic Games. The additional sports in Tokyo will not impact the athlete or event quotas of existing Olympic sports or be binding on future host cities.


  • Olympic surfing in Tokyo will take place in the ocean. The location will be Shidashita Beach, or “Shida”, in Chiba, approximately 40 miles outside of Tokyo. Average surf heights at Shida are in the thigh-waist-chest high range during the dates of interest (July 24-August 9). The trend is for surf heights to gradually increase from July 24 to August 9, as the statistical chances of seeing typhoon swells increases.


  • With a sand bottom, the waves at Shida feature a punchy beach-break, which occasionally barrels. A series of jetties on the beach help funnel sand movement to create consistent sandbars.


  • In order to ensure quality surf, the contest will feature a waiting period of sixteen days. It will take two days to finish the competition.


  • How surfers qualify to represent their country will be confirmed in 2017. It is possible the surfing competition will run similar to other sports, with qualification trials being held in the months leading up to the event and/or rankings within the ISA and WSL could be considered for qualification.


  • It is currently unclear what criteria the Olympic judges will adopt for competition. It is likely the Olympic committee will look to surfing’s established competitive organizations, such as the WSL or the ISA, before confirming.


  • Like other sports in the Olympics, surfers will be required to wear the team uniforms provided by the country they will represent. Surfers will also be able to wear various surf-specific gear from their original sponsors. This has happened at previous Olympics, for example, USA basketball player Kyle Lowry wore a Nike uniform and Adidas shoes in the Rio Olympics in 2016.


  • Many professional surfers have expressed an interest in representing their country at the Olympics at Tokyo in 2020. These athletes include John Florence, Kelly Slater, Adriano de Souza, Kanoa Igarashi, Filipe Toledo, Coco Ho, Sage Erickson, Tyler Wright, Tatiana Weston-Webb and many more.