Olympic Surfing: What you need to Know

Surfing is set to make its debut at this year's summer Olympics, with entrants including world champions and the World Surf League tour's leading competitors.

The summer Olympics were originally due to take place last year, but they were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, Tokyo 2020 is so far going ahead in July 2021 - when surfing will be a competitive sport for the first time. It will take place in the sea, rather than a wave pool, adding to the excitement.

olympic surfing

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Surfing has been added to the Olympic disciplines following years of dedicated campaigning by the International Surfing Association. The organisation lobbied the International Olympic Committee for more than half a century, until surfing took its rightful place as an Olympic sport.


Olympic dreams

Surfers have dreamed of making it an Olympic sport for even longer than this. Legendary surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, represented the United States in swimming at the Olympic Games of 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden. After winning the gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle event, he commented that he hoped surfing could become an Olympic sport one day. However, surfers have been waiting for more than a century to realise Kahanamoku's dreams.

In 1964, the ISA began its campaign to create a better world through surfing, developing the sport at grassroots level all over the world. Crowned world champions in all surfing disciplines, the organisation created scholarships for more than 300 boys and girls to hone their skills. It also created new development courses, leading to certified surfing instructors. Today, the ISA has 108 member nations.

The professionalism and persistence of the ISA led to the International Olympic Committee recognising it as surfing's world governing body. This finally led to the inclusion of surfing in the Olympic Games. In 2016, it was announced surfing would make its Olympic debut at Tokyo in July 2020.


Will the Olympic Games go ahead this year?

The unprecedented knock-on effect of the Covid-19 pandemic led to the games being postponed until 23rd July 2021. No-one could have foreseen how the pandemic would still be impacting our lives more than a year later. Questions have been asked about whether the games can still go ahead when the virus remains rife in some countries.

Currently, the IOC still plans for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to take place as planned. The body has drawn up an action plan of health and safety precautions to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19.

All athletes must provide proof of a negative Covid test result before they depart their home country. They must also take a Covid test within 72 hours of setting off for the Olympic Games. In the 14 days before arriving in Japan, they must minimise all contact with other people and must practice the personal hygiene rules that have become familiar to people all over the world, such as washing and sanitising hands thoroughly at all times.

Once in Tokyo, all the athletes must have further Covid tests and temperature checks at regular intervals throughout their stay. The organisers are also reducing the number of athletes who can attend the opening and closing ceremonies. None of them will be allowed to visit any Olympic venues other than those in which they are competing. Nor can they go to gyms, bars, restaurants, public areas or shops during their stay.

A meeting of the IOC on 20th March confirmed no international spectators will be permitted to attend the games and anyone who has purchased tickets from overseas can receive a refund.

Before the games were postponed due to the pandemic last year, around 4.5 million Olympic tickets were sold to residents of Japan. It is unclear what the situation will be in relation to local ticket-holders at this stage.


What will the Olympic format be?

Every surfing discipline recognised by the ISA will be included in the Tokyo Olympics. The competition will be taking place in the ocean, so each wave will be different. The combination of the ebb and flow of the tide and the wind's strength and direction will affect how the surfers perform. It will make the competition particularly interesting, as they will be competing against each other, as well as taking on the challenges posed by the natural elements.

There will be initial and main knockout rounds that eventually lead to the medal matches. The early rounds will have heats of four people and the main rounds will see two people competing. Each heat will last 20 to 25 minutes and will be judged by a panel of five expert surfers. They will score the competitors on pre-determined criteria, such as the degree of difficulty; the surfers' commitment; progressive and innovative manoeuvres; power; the combination and variety of major manoeuvres; speed and flow. The top two scores will count.

Surfing is structured into various disciplines, including shortboard, standup paddle racing and surfing, longboard, bodyboarding, bodysurfing, wakesurfing and other wave-riding activities.


Who will be competing?

Among the top male surfers taking part, Brazilian Italo Ferreira, aged 26, is the 2019 World Champion, who shot to fame on the 2015 Championship Tour during his rookie season with an amazing aerial attack and rail game.

Female competitors will include Australia's Stephanie Gilmore, 33, the seven-time world champion, who has dominated the women's circuit since 2007. Choosing the teams was delayed due to the postponement of many of last year's events due to the pandemic.

As long as cases of Covid-19 don't spike again, it looks like the Tokyo Olympics will be going ahead as planned from Friday 23rd July until Sunday 8th August.

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