Watch 'Road to Tokyo: Surfing – The Qualifier Stories', Olympic Channel's new series

Witness the incredible journey of the world’s top surfers who competed for Olympic qualification at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games.  

By Ashlee Tulloch

High stakes and high drama.

That's what you can expect from the latest Olympic Channel original series Road to Tokyo: Surfing – The Qualifier Stories.

No athletes' journey to the Olympics is the same and this series takes you behind the scenes, revealing just how tough that journey can be.

When 240 of the world's best surfers, from 55 different nations, descended on Miyazaki, Japan for the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games, they had a mission: booking a ticket to Tokyo 2020.

Through the eyes of surfers like Kolohe Andino, Bianca Buitendag, Michel Bourez, Jordy Smith, Rachel Presti and many more, we pull back the curtains on the competition to show how just challenging qualifying for the Olympics is.

This edition of the International Surfing Association's (ISA) annual event is also a historic one, serving as the very first competition to directly qualify surfers for the Tokyo Games.

''This competition is probably the most important one in my whole career.'' - South African, Bianca Buitendag

Much has been made of the fact that surfing is one of five new sports to make its debut at the next Olympics, so this seven-part series is sure to help you appreciate the sport more come Games time in July 2021.

What to expect

The beauty of the ocean and the elements is that you have to expect the unexpected. And that's exactly what the athletes had to do over the course of the nine-day competition.

''The conditions are pretty small and grovely. I had to take my bigger board and put a lot of power into my turns and kind of make my own speed because the wave doesn't really give it to you.'' - German surfer, Rachel Presti.

As well as adapting to varying wave conditions, surfers needed to adapt to foreign competitors.

''In these types of conditions in Japan, it's pretty small regularly so anything can happen. Number 150 can beat number one, just like that.'' - South African pro surfer, Jordy Smith.

Federation requirements mean that all surfers wanting to be eligible for the Olympics must attend the World Surfing Games. This created a unique situation where for the first time the world’s top professionals and amateurs were competing against each other in the same event.

''One goal is to give an opportunity to the rising nations to come and surf against the best of the best. And then for the stars it's a chance to go back and re-engage with that feeling of representing your country.'' - Fernando Aguerre, ISA President.

It would be remiss to not mention ISA President Fernando Aguerre, whose passion and drive has been instrumental in surfing's international growth and Olympic inclusion.

''I was inspired in '92 when at the Olympic Games I saw the Dream Team of basketball. I said: why can't we have the same in surfing?''

20 men and 20 women will compete in surfing's Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020. A maximum of two surfers, per gender, per National Olympic Committee are eligible.

Of those 40 places, eight 'golden' tickets were up for grabs at the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games. The pressure is high.

''I came here and thought: it's just going to be another event, like the first couple of rounds will be easy but actually not. They have such good levels and it's pretty stressful at the same time'' - French pro surfer, Michel Bourez.

How did they go: WATCH HERE

As well as sharing athletes trials and tribulations vying for Tokyo qualification, the series recognizes the excitement brewing within the surfing community ahead of their Olympic debut.

''The Olympic medal will be remembered forever because it will be the first one.'' - French pro surfer Michel Bourez.

Other sports and other qualifier stories

This surfing edition of The Road to Tokyo Qualifier stories is just the first drop in an exciting series.

Between now and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, we'll shine a light on different sports, different athletes and different stories from all around the globe.

We'll share insights into the qualification experiences at key qualifying events, through the eyes of the athletes attempting to secure an Olympic spot.


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