What Team Are You Rooting For?
The biggest news in surfing this week is also the biggest news in the world in general—the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. After decades of lobbying, a convoluted, two-year qualification process, and a pandemic delay, surfing is finally making it’s Olympic debut in Japan, and 40 of the world’s best surfers are currently sequestered in the Olympic Village, prepping for their big day in the spotlight.
As we count down the days to the start of the Olympics, here is everything you need to know about surfing this week.
The Qualification Process:
Getting into the Olympics as a surfer was no easy feat. Not only did you have to be one of the best surfers in the world, but you also had to decipher the extremely complicated qualification process.
The basic gist of it was that only 40 surfers could qualify—20 men and 20 women—and no country could have more than two men and two women surfing. Japan automatically got four spots, since they were the host country. The next 10 men and 10 women came from the world tour, with the 10 top-ranked surfers at the end of 2019 getting spots—except for the fact that no country could have more than two surfers of each gender, so if, like Brazil, you had more than two surfers in the top 10, only the top two rated surfers would qualify. The rest of the field qualified either through the 2019 Pan Am Games, the 2019 ISA Games, or the 2021 ISA Games.
Sufficiently confused? So was everyone else.
In total, there are 40 surfers from 17 countries in Tokyo for the Olympics. Here’s a list of the competitors and the countries they are surfing for, in no particular order:
While most of the Olympic events will be held in Tokyo proper, the surfing event will be held in nearby Chiba Prefecture, which makes up the heart of the surf scene in Japan. The contest will be held at Shibashita Beach, which is a series of beach break peaks breaking near jetties, similar to Newport Beach in California. The waves can range from small, gutless wind swell to pumping a-frame tubes, depending on conditions and swell.
The men’s and women’s fields both have 20 surfers in them, so there will be some interesting shuffling to pare the field down to the standard 16 that you need for quarterfinals, semis, etc.
Round one will see four-surfer heats, with the top two advancing straight to round three. Round two will have two five-surfer heats, with the top three advancing to round three and the bottom two getting eliminated. Round three will feature eight two-surfer heats, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals.
The winners of the quarters will advance to the semis, and the winners of the semis will advance to the gold/silver medal final, while the losers of the semis will surf against each other for bronze.
There are currently four days of competition scheduled, running from July 25-28. Whether or not there is any flexibility in the waiting period, and if that flexibility will be used to get the best conditions possible, remains to be seen.
Learn More About Tokyo Olympics 2020 Surfing Event Schedule.
Ever since the contest site was announced for the Tokyo Olympics, people have despaired that the event would be held in horrible knee-high slop, which is the typical conditions this time of year.
However, it appears that the Olympic gods might be smiling on Tokyo, because there is currently a typhoon on the forecast that could end up delivering solid swell to the event. As of now it is difficult to tell how close the typhoon will get to the coast and what it will do to the local conditions, but it’s likely that there will be some sort of typhoon swell impacting the lineup on the 25th and 26th.
After that, there appears to be a long run of easterly swell in the chest- to head-high range. This is all great news for the Olympic committee, because there is the potential to actually have a pretty good event—or at least a couple good days. Compare that forecast with the conditions that will be seen in the two weeks before the contest, and you start to realize how lucky they are actually getting. It’s been about knee-high for the past week, and will be that same size right up until the event starts and the typhoon swell potentially hits.
Who Will Win?
This is a hard one to answer, because the conditions could really be anything from small, clean, rippable walls to huge victory-at-sea storm surf to perfect overhead barrels. If the typhoon forecast downgrades and the waves are a grovel fest, look for Italo, Medina, and Kanoa to dominate on the men’s side. If waves are out of control, power surfers like Jordy, Frederico, Michel, and Owen have a shot. And if it’s perfect barrels—well, you’d be a fool to bet against John John, even with his injured knee.
On the women’s side, Carissa Moore has to be the odds-on favorite, as she’s been completely dominant this year and is arguably the best female surfer in the world. That being said, Steph Gilmore has won more world titles than anyone else, and Caroline Marks has been bringing her A-game ever since she qualified in 2018.
Whoever ends up taking home the gold, one thing is for certain—this will be an historic event! Whether you think surfing belongs in the Olympics or not, it’s finally moving up to the biggest stage in sports, and if nothing else, that’s extremely noteworthy!
Learn More About Surfing in Tokyo Olympics Here!