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

Your Guide to Watching Surfing As the Sport Moves to the Olympic Stage

Surfing will make its debut at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020ne, 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’s two-man, two-woman Olympic surf team L to R top: Kolohe Andino, Carissa Moore, L to R bottom: Caroline Marks, John John Florence

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 from around the world will compete in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020ne. These athletes qualified based on 2019 World Surf League standings and performances at ISA World Surfing Games and Pan American Games.

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.”

“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.”


It is not yet known what format the Olympic surf competition will take. The International Surfing Association (ISA) will control the Olympic judging criteria and panels. 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.

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.

Team USA’s Kevin Schulz at the 2018 World Surf Games in Tahara, Japan (Photo: Ben Reed)

The 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.

A panel of judges from several different countries (usually between five to seven) score each surfer’s performance using a scale of one to 10.

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 tricks and 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 2020 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 two-week window (July 24 — August 8) 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.

Of course we think surfing is the world’s greatest spectator sport (and even better to do)! What do you like best about competitive surfing? Any advice for those watching for the first time?

The National Governing Body for Olympic Surfing