What You Need to Know about Surfing in the 2020 Olympics

As of 2017, the official announcement came out that surfing, alongside a few other sports, would be introduced to the 2020 Summer Olympics, which will be taking place in Tokyo, Japan. It’s changed how surfers are thinking and competing, with world-wide competitions possessing a new edge. What does Olympic surfing mean for the west coast and Canadian surfers in general? A lot. It’s finally our time to shine, bringing the unbelievable concept of Canadian surfing to the rest of the world, and possibly bringing home gold for Team Canada. Here’s the low-down on what you need to know about surfing in the 2020 Summer Olympics.


The athlete and country team construction is pretty unique for Olympic surfing. Each country can have a maximum of 2 surfers representing the country per division, and there will be 20 women, and 20 men surfers entering the competition total. Their tactic allows for some diversification in the line-up, meaning more nationalities represented in the sport. This also means that if the top three qualifiers are all from Canada, the selection skips the third Canadian in favour of the next top surfer of a different nationality – this makes qualifying incredibly cut-throat. While there could be an opportunity for more surfing events in the future, the 2020 debut will only involve short boarding.


Nearly half of the qualifying athletes will be coming from the 2019 Championship Tour (18 athletes), with the remaining selected from the ISA World Surfing Games of 2019 (8 athletes) and 2020 (10 athletes), as well as the 2019 Pan-Am Games (2 athletes), which are being held in Lima, Peru. The final two slots, one man and one woman surfer, will be saved for Japan as the host nation.


The surfing portion of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games is scheduled to be held at Tsurigasaki Beach. It’s located on the southern end of Kujukuri Beach on the Pacific Ocean, about 90km south-east of Tokyo, and sees 180 degree, NW-SW swell. The location previously hosted some QS events, so it isn’t new to the surfing world. The small town surrounding the beach, Ichinomiya, has gained momentum over the years as a surfing destination and is undergoing major improvements after its selection as an official Olympic venue. Thanks to Tsurigasaki’s popularity as a surf spot there’s a decade’s worth of history detailing everything from surf direction, swirl, wind and size, so hosting here isn’t much of a gamble. The competition needs just two, eight-hour days of good surf.


Photo by: Chris Stankis

The Competitions

Championship Tour:

The Championship Tour (CT) for surfing consists of a series of events. Athletes on the tour are awarded points based on their rank in each of the tour competitions competed in, which take place at different beaches around the world. A number of their top scores are added in order to establish a rank. The athletes competing in the Championship Tour are selected the following way: the top surfers from the CT the year before, the top qualifiers from the Qualifying Series (QS) events (the top 5 scores from there count to create a rank for the surfer) and a certain number of Wild Cards.

For 2018, there are 10 women’s and 11 men’s competitions in the CT. For men, the top 9/11 scores are counted towards their ranking, and for women the top 8/10 scores.

International Surf Association World Surfing Games:

Countries involved in the International Surf Association (ISA) have the opportunity to send a team representing their country to the various competitions held by the ISA. The competitors are rewarded both team and individual medals during the World Surf Games for various divisions. When it comes to the Olympics, 10 individuals (4 men and 6 women) from the 2020 World Games will be selected for the Olympics and 8 (4 men and 4 women) from the 2019 games will qualify to represent their country at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

Pan-Am World Games:

Pan Am 2019 will be held in Lima, Peru and will decide the final two international spots for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games surfers. The Pan-Am World Games are another competition where teams made up of surfers competing in various divisions and competitions represent their counties. They’re carefully selected, often through various national surfing competitions. The top two surfers in the Pan-Am games will be selected as qualifiers for the Olympics.


Photo by: Rory O’Connell

What does that mean for Canadian surfers?

For Canadian surfers, getting to the Pan-Am World Games and ISA World Games are fundamental to making a qualifying slot in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. There are currently no Canadian Surfers on the WSL Championship Tour.

It also means that the Olympics are a fantastic time to show the rest of the world the faces of Canadian surfing – a fierce sport involving frigid temperatures and wild, west coast weather. There are incredible surfers who grace places like Tofino, B.C., a few making their name thanks to the Rip Curl Pro competition that takes place each May. Surfing in the Olympics gives Canadian surfers yet another event to excel at and work towards.

The Rip Curl Pro at Cox Bay will play an even bigger role in shaping the face of the Canadian Team for both the 2019 Pan-Am Games, and the 2020 Olympics, as Surf Canada has taken on an Olympic role. The competition has long helped Surf Canada identify talented young surfers, shaping them up to compete in the ISA World Games and on the National Team. The 2018 Rip Curl Pro will take place at Cox Bay on May 11-13, 2018.

It also means that there will be additional competitions coming to Canada’s shores in order to establish the team! This includes the 2018 Surf Canada Nationals, which will take place at Wickaninnish Beach between Tofino BC and Ucluelet BC on May 4-7, 2018. The competition will act as the National Championship and Team Canada Surf, and SUPsurf selections for the PanAm Qualifiers and ISA Worlds. It also means it acts as the first steps for Canadian Surfers to get themselves to the Olympic Podium.


Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk