Surfing will make its Olympic debut this year — an extraordinary moment for a sport that traces its origins to at least 2,000 BC in ancient Polynesia, according to surf historian Matt Warshaw in his book, “A Brief History of Surfing.”
Who is competing? Some 40 surfers — 20 men and 20 women from 18 countries — will make history as the first to represent their sport on the Olympic stage.
Carissa Moore and John John Florence of Hawaii, Caroline Marks of Florida and Kolohe Andino of California will represent the US in surfing’s Olympic debut.
Floridian Kelly Slater, widely considered the greatest surfer of all time, has been named as the official alternative for Andino and Florence, who are both recovering from injury-induced surgeries.
In the women’s competition, Lakey Peterson of California is the back-up for both Moore and Marks.
When and where? The competition is slated to begin Saturday, July 24, according to the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, there’s a 16-day window in which the two-day competitions could occur to maximize chances for the best possible waves on a shoreline known for sometimes fickle and diminutive surf in summer.
The competition will occur at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach, one of the closest surfable beaches to Tokyo — about a 1.5-hour drive away.
How does it work? The Tokyo Olympics will feature the surfing discipline of shortboarding, which developed in tandem with California skateboard culture and is now the dominant style of competitive surfing worldwide. Shortboarding emphasizes quick turns and radical maneuvers in steep, hollow waves, as well as aerials performed above the lip of the wave.
The women’s and men’s contests will be composed of six heats lasting 20 to 35 minutes, depending on conditions, in order to narrow the field down to gold, silver and bronze medalists, according to the IOC.
Heats will be judged by a panel of five judges who will score each wave ridden on a scale of one to 10, based on six criteria such as difficulty, innovation, variety, speed, power and flow. The judges’ highest and lowest scores will be discarded and athletes will be given the average of the three scores remaining. A surfer’s two highest-scoring waves in a heat will be combined for a total score — with no limit on how many waves a surfer may ride.
After a year of delays and uncertainty, the Olympics formally kick off today