Surfing at Tokyo Olympics 2020: dates, times, new event rules and names to watch

What is the latest news?

The men’s surfing contest at the Olympics was delayed by 90 minutes on Monday due to low tide at Tsurigasaki beach, about 90 miles east of Tokyo.

The International Surfing Association, the sport’s Olympic governing body, said low tide combined with the shifting weather has destabilized the quality of the surf conditions for the sport’s big debut.

The call came at the end of the eight 1-on-1 heats for the women’s competition, and now the men’s game is pushed back to start at 1:18 p.m. local time.

Such delays are not unusual in competitive surfing, as it is perhaps the only organized sport that is both dependent on an uncontrollable variable _ the weather _ and defined by a literal uneven playing field _ the ocean.

What is the competition format?

A total of 40 athletes (20 men and 20 women) will compete, broken down into multiple rounds, eventually leading to gold and bronze medal finals.

The initial rounds will have four and five-person heats, and the main rounds (round 3 onwards) will have two-person heats, where the winner advances to the next round and the loser is eliminated.

The top two surfers from each heat in round 1 will advance directly to round 3. The bottom two surfers will move onto round 2, which acts as essentially as a ‘repechage’ or ‘second chance’ round. The top three surfers in each heat will advance to round 3, where surfers are seeded into a bracket using their results from the first two rounds, as well as their world ranking.

The eight winners in round 3 advance to the quarter-final round and then four winners progress to the semi-final round. The two winners compete for gold with the two losers battling it out for bronze.

Each heat can last up to 35 minutes, while a wave limit for each surfer per heat will also be set at the start of each day’s competition. The surfing schedule is dependent on expected wave conditions and competition might be postponed if better conditions are expected later.

How does the scoring work?

A judging panel consists of five judges who analyse performances, scoring each wave on a scale of 1-10, with two decimal places. For each wave, the highest and lowest scores are discarded, with the surfer given an average of the three scores remaining. A surfer’s two highest-scoring waves are then combined for an overall total. A perfect ride is 10 points and therefore a perfect heat is a total score of 20 points.

The scoring system is based on five criteria that reflect the core elements of the sport:

1. Commitment and degree of difficulty

This factor is the most important and judges the types, degree of difficulty, and risk of the moves performed. Athletes are also judged on how high-risk the wave they have chosen is, and how committed that surfer is to maximise the potential scoring opportunities on each wave.

2. Innovative and progressive manoeuvres

On top of standard manoeuvres, the judges will also award points for those who push the boundaries of modern surfing with progressive moves such as aerial or tail-slide variations.

3. Variety of manoeuvres

Quality is the most important but athletes will also be rewarded for incorporating many different types of manoeuvres into their surfing.

4. Combination of major manoeuvres

This point considers how seamlessly a surfer can connect high-scoring manoeuvres such as barrels, turns, and aerials on the same wave.

5. Speed, power, and flow

The ability to react to shifting conditions on a wave and maintain proper speed to perform high-scoring manoeuvres, the amount of power that is going into each move so that it can be displayed at it’s highest potential, and a flow in the way that a surfer connects each move from start to finish.

Any Brits in action?

With the qualification process drawing to a close after the ISA World Surfing Games, Team GB were not able to secure any representation. Young skateboarder Sky Brown is a talented surfer but any Olympic ambitions in the latter have been delayed for now, with Paris 2024 a possibility.

Other names to watch out for


Historically, the USA and Australia have been the undisputed powerhouses of men’s professional surfing. For the former, two-time world surfing champion John John Florence will compete in Tokyo, despite suffering a knee injury in early May. For Australia, Owen Wright continues his remarkable story, having taught himself how to surf again after a near-death injury and traumatic brain injury in 2015.

In 2014 Gabriel Medina made history by becoming the first Brazilian surfing world champion. The now two-time world champion will be in Tokyo alongside reigning world champion Italo Ferreira.

Who ended up Olympic champion? John John Florence’s knee injury proved to much to overcome as he was beaten in the third round by fellow American Kolohe Andino. Owen Wright and Gabriel Medina, however, proved their class as they marched through to the semi finals. But hopes of golden glory ended there for the pair – Wright beaten by Brazil’s Italo Ferreira, and Medina by Kanoa Igarashi of Japan.

There was to be no gold for the hosts, though, as it was Ferreira who became king of the waves beating Igarashi 15.14 to 6.60 in the gold-medal match. Wright picked up the bronze after he beat Medina in the third-place match.


Carissa Moore became the first American female to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut while clinching her fourth surfing world title in Hawaii. She will be joined on the US roster by Caroline Marks who finished second in the end of year rankings.

Pushing Moore for the title will be Australia’s seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore who will be joined in the national green and gold colours by Sally Fitzgibbons.

Brazilians Tatiana Weston-Webb and Silvana Lima are expected to relish the Japanese wave conditions with the chance to show off their best aerial manoeuvres.

Other competitors include Peru’s Daniella Rosas, South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag, New Zealand’s Ella Williams, and Israel’s Anat Lelior.

Who ended up Olympic champion? Seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore crashed out of the women’s competition, losing to rank outsider Bianca Buitendag of South Africa in their last-16 heat on Monday.

Few expected Buitendag to have any chance at all against the decorated Australian but she went even better beating Yolanda Hopkins of Portugal in the quarter final before again upsetting the odds by beating Caroline Marks in the semi final.

She met Clarissa Moore in the final but was unable to continue her magical run, the American claiming the gold with a 14.93 – 8.46 victory. In the bronze-medal match Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki beat Marks.

Key phrases


A surfer launches from the top of the wave to take air before dropping back down into the same wave.


A classic surfing move used to change direction when streaking ahead of the curl of a wave with a powerful turn back towards the breaking part of the wave.

Duck dive

As they’re paddling out to catch a wave, the surfer will dip the nose of their board underwater to dive underneath a wave rather than choosing to ride it.


A series of waves approaching the lineup. Waves almost always arrive in sets, and the periods in between sets are called lulls.


A very quick turn on the top of the wave.

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