World-class waves, astounding agility, weather delays and the intervention of a sea turtle all contributed to a highly eventful – and successful – surfing test event at Tsurigasaki Beach, Japan.
The four-day competition, running from 18 to 21 July as part of the Ready Steady Tokyo series, gave the Organising Committee and the International Surfing Association (ISA) good preparation for next summer’s event.
Four days are required for the competition to take place, but Tokyo 2020 has provided an eight-day window, from 26 July to 2 August, to be on the safe side. Twenty men and 20 women will compete at Tokyo 2020; at the test event, 40 Japanese wave riders took part to replicate the exact format of the Olympic competition.
Round one features four athletes per heat, while round two has five; from round three it was head-to-head competition. The athletes with the highest two scores out of 10 continued to the next round, with each heat taking 30 minutes.
Fog and small breaks on Thursday meant a delay to the start of competition. Organisers also had to contend with the unforeseeable challenge of a sea turtle laying her eggs overnight, just metres from the judges’ viewing area.
Once the surf had risen – and with the eggs intact – things got safely under way. The weekend’s weather was very changeable, from heavy rain to bright sunshine, which provided further insight into the different conditions that surfers may face as they look to become their sport’s first Olympic gold medallists.
The beach, situated on Chiba Prefecture’s Pacific coastline, about 62km south-east of Tokyo, is famous for consistent, world-class waves, and attracts 600,000 surfers every year.
The breaks measured between 1 to 1.5 metres during the test event, which will be acceptable for the cream of the world’s surfing crop next year.
“We depend on Mother Nature, we depend on the natural conditions as they present themselves,” Robert Fasulo, ISA Executive Director, said. “We are very confident, and part of the reason why we’re here in this period is to see how the conditions are running during the format.”
Hiroto Ohhara won the men’s event, while Minami Nonaka took women’s gold. The surfers themselves gave the venue and surroundings the thumbs-up.
“I often come here to practise, and there are good waves,” Shino Matsuda said. “This is absolutely a good location for a high-class, world-class surfing competition.”
“I was born in Tokyo and I can make it to the Tokyo Olympics – that makes me feel so good,” Arashi Kato added.
Fasulo concluded: “The biggest three lessons were that the event format works, the waves are absolutely up to standard to run a high-quality, world-class event, and we can innovate a little bit in the way we present the sport.”
“I’m super happy to be here, it’s really big,” Kenta Ishikawa said, summing up the general mood. “I’ve never seen anything like this before – I’m stoked.”
Turtles permitting, the Olympians should be feeling the same way next summer.