Team USA Olympic surfer Kolohe Andino at an Expression Session celebrating surfing’s Olympic debut. (Photo: Kurt Steinmetz)

Your Guide to Watching Surfing’s Olympic Debut

USA Surfing
5 min readJan 18, 2021


Surfing will make its debut at the rescheduled Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, introducing an exceptionally beautiful and athletically demanding sport to new audiences.

Having the sport of surfing included in the Olympics is an extraordinary opportunity for surfing and the world of sport. With the Games rescheduled for July of 2021, it is a great time to get up to speed on the sport of surfing and maybe even give it a try.

Here’s what you need to know:

USA Surfing CEO Greg Cruse said the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020ne will be a “game-changing moment” for the sport’s athletes “to represent their countries and compete on the world’s greatest sporting stage.”

Cruse said an Olympic gold medal will represent a pinnacle of achievement for surf athletes with more national and worldwide attention than surfing has ever known.


Kolohe Andino, Carissa Moore, Caroline Marks, and John John Florence will represent Team USA in surfing’s first Olympics.

“This is an absolute dream team,” said USA Surfing CEO Greg Cruse.

“Team USA not only has the best surfers in the world, they are spectacular representatives of our sport and country. Their professionalism, passion and dedication to excellence is unmatched. Tokyo 2020ne here we come!”

A total of 40 surfers representing countries around the world will compete in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020ne. The size of each country’s team is between two and four surfers, who qualified based on 2019 World Surf League standings and for nations not represented in the WSL — performances at International Surfing Association (ISA) World Surfing Games and Pan American Games. The ISA released the format for surfing in the Olympic Games, which includes six rounds of 30 minute heats, which features a mix of five and four-surfer heats and one-on-one rounds. See first round heat draws here.

Olympic surfers Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks talk about qualifying for surfing’s first Olympics on NBC’s Today Show

“I’m super honored to represent my country and share it with my family and friends,” Caroline Marks said. “Hopefully it touches an audience that’s bigger than our industry bubble and it brings more attention to the WSL and to the sport.”

Historically, Hawaiian surfers compete under their state flag — recognition that Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing.

The Olympics will unite the islands and mainland, bringing surfers from both geographies together as Team USA. Both coasts, the mainland and Hawaii are represented by Kolohe Andino (California), Caroline Marks (Florida), Carissa Moore and John John Florence (Hawaii).

“I am honored to be going to the Olympics next year and representing the US,” said four-time world champion Carissa Moore. “It is great to see surfing included in an event with so much history and respect.”


During the Tokyo Olympics, visit for the most complete daily listings. These listings will look ahead two days in advance and will be updated daily throughout the Tokyo Olympics, beginning July 19.


The International Surfing Association (ISA) selects the Olympic judging criteria and panels. ISA has published a guide to the heat draws, and seeding for the first heats of Olympic competition.

A panel of five judges from different countries score each surfer’s performance using a scale of .1 to 10. (See also:“Tory Gilkerson named Olympic judge, the panel’s first woman surf judge”.)

The format will consist of rounds of heats with between two to five surfers.

In the first round, four surfers compete per heat, with the top two advancing to round three. Only the surfer’s top two wave scores count in their heat total.

In the second round, the 10 surfers who did not advance will be given one more chance to move on to the final round. Five surfers will compete per heat with the top three in each advancing to round three.

From round three through to the finals, it’s one-on-one elimination. The winner of each heat advances and the loser is out until the semifinals. The winners of the semifinals will compete for the gold while the losers will battle for bronze.

American surfer Kevin Schulz at the 2018 World Surf Games in Tahara, Japan (Photo: Ben Reed)

Surf heats can last up to 35 minutes, depending on conditions. The medal round heats are the longest. During that time, each surfer works to lock in their two highest-scoring performances.

Scores are based on criteria including: size of the wave, speed, power, flow, and the combination of major maneuvers performed. For more information, read this list of surf maneuvers. For every scoring ride, the highest and lowest scores (of the five judges) are discarded and the surfer receives the average of the remaining three. The two best scoring waves are added together to become a surfer’s heat total.

ISA and WSL judging scale:
[0.0–1.9: Poor]
[2.0–3.9: Fair]
[4.0–5.9: Average]
[6.0–7.9: Good]
[8.0–10.0: Excellent]

Surf competitors wear different colored jerseys to help the judges distinguish the surfers. A color-coded electronic board indicates to surfers which color jersey has the first right to take the wave of their choosing.

The priority system becomes a big part of the athletes’ heat strategies and scoring potential. Surfers are given interference penalties if they don’t follow rules of priority.

Four-time world champion Carissa Moore at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan. Moore has taken four years of Japanese in high school and impressed fans with her surfing and conversation.


The debut Olympic surfing competition will be held at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba — about 40 minutes outside Tokyo. USA Surfing’s official forecasting partner Surfline has been watching weather and wave patterns that bode well for good conditions during the late July window of 2021.

Surfline installed three new cameras at the Olympic venue, so you can keep an eye on conditions.


With the help of Surfline, leaders from the International Surfing Association and International Olympic Committee will identify the dates with the best conditions to run the Olympic surfing games. A window from July 25 — August 1 is being held to determine the best days to hold the surf competition. The contest could be compressed into two-and-a-half days, but ideally will run over four days.

During the Tokyo Olympics, visit for the most complete daily listings. These listings will look ahead two days in advance and will be updated daily throughout the Tokyo Olympics, beginning July 19.

*For more information on the path to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020ne, read Olympic Surfing: A Progress Report.



USA Surfing

The official ISA-recognized national federation for the ​sport of surfing in the USA //