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

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 and natural wonder — the ocean.”


Team USA Olympic surf team qualifier Kolohe Andino at the Expression Session at Lowers celebrating surfing’s Olympic debut. (Photo: Kurt Steinmetz)

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.

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 performances at International Surfing Association (ISA) World Surfing Games and Pan American Games. The ISA released the format for surfing in the Olympic Games, with proposed first-round matchups between Team USA’s John John Florence and Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi, and American Kolohe Andino and South African Jordy Smith.

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.”

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.”


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

Based on current international competition, the competition will be decided based on rounds of heats with between two to four surfers. There are typically quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. The top finishers advance to one-on-one heats that determine the winner. (See also:“Tory Gilkerson named Olympic judge, the panel’s first woman surf judge”.)

The ISA World Surfing Games — now an Olympic qualifying competition uses double elimination rounds. There are initial heats for men and women, in which the first and second place winners automatically continue to the next round while the third and fourth place surfers move over to the repechage heats that provide a second chance to get back into the finals. In repechage, the first and second place winners move on to the finals.

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

Surf heats generally last between 20–30 minutes. During that time, each surfer works to lock in their two highest-scoring performances. The two highest-scoring waves are added together to become a surfer’s heat score total.

Performance on the wave is currently 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.

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 athletes. 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.

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

The National Governing Body for Olympic Surfing

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