Photo by Matt KingGetty Images
Photo by Matt KingGetty Images

The world's top surfers will celebrate their sport's Olympic debut by competing on Japan's spectacular Pacific coastline.

Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"

We will show you the rules and highlights of surfing in one minute. Whether you are familiar with surfing or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.

One Minute, One Sport | Surfing

"One Minute, One Sport" will show you the rules and highlights of Surfing in one minute


Surfing is one of five additional sports proposed by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to bring more youthful and vibrant events and culture into the Olympic programme. In 2016, its inclusion was approved by the International Olympic Committee.

The competition will take place in the ocean, where the condition of the waves, the direction and strength of the wind, and the ebb and flow of the tide will all be factors. No two waves are alike, making surfing a competition where athletes compete against each other while balancing the changing conditions of nature.

The art of riding waves on a board is said to date back to ancient Polynesians living in Hawaii and Tahiti. Surfing was popularised by Duke Kahanamoku, from Hawaii, who won three gold medals in swimming at the Stockholm 1912 and Antwerp 1920 Games when competing for the USA. Kahanamoku is considered 'the father of modern surfing' and planted the seed for surfing's future Olympic inclusion by expressing his dream to see the sport become an Olympic sport while accepting his medal on the podium at the 1912 Games.

Surfing as a sport is broadly divided according to the size and type of the board used. The longboard is around nine feet (2.7m) in length and more buoyant than the shortboard, which first appeared around 1970 and is approximately six feet (1.8m) in length. The shortboard has a pointed tip which aids turning, is quicker to manoeuvre and tends to be receptive to more dynamic techniques. Shortboards will be used at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where 20 men and 20 women will compete in separate competitions.

Event Programme

  • Men/Women

Essence of the Sport

Searching for speed, power and flow

In Olympic competition, the format will progress through initial and main rounds which eventually lead to gold medal and bronze medal matches. The initial rounds will have four and five-person heats, and the main rounds will have two-person heats, where the winner advances to the next round and the loser is eliminated.

The length of a heat is normally 30 minutes and is decided by the Technical Director, depending on the conditions of the day. In this time, each athlete will be allowed to ride a maximum of 25 waves, and their two highest scoring waves will count towards their heat total, which creates their heat result.

In the ocean, no two waves are ever the same, so each wave breaks differently offering a different scoring potential. A panel of five judges will score each ride based on the "Judging Criteria". The criteria reflect the definition of good surfing and are based upon the key elements of commitment and degree of difficulty, innovative and progressive manoeuvres, combinations of major manoeuvres, variety of manoeuvres, and speed, power and flow. Rather than riding as many waves as possible or performing a large quantity of manoeuvres, the athletes will often be very selective to choose waves that offer the most critical sections available, attempting to perform the most quality manoeuvre.

The manoeuvres have no prescribed scores and accumulating points depends on the overall application of the criteria to each whole ride. The manoeuvres include aspects of power surfing reflected in variations of cutbacks, off the lips, and floaters and progressive surfing reflected in variations of aerials, slides, and reverses. Often the ultimate manoeuvre for surfers is the barrel where a surfer disappears and rides within the hollow part of the wave, but this is also scored according to several technical factors and based on quality.

When each wave is about to break, a 'peak' will often form at the steepest part of the wave. Athletes will often position themselves at the peak for entry into their chosen wave. When more than one athlete wants the same wave, the 'right of way' for each wave is determined by the athlete who is closest to the 'peak' of the wave or the athlete with the highest priority.

Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

Ruling the waves at Tokyo 2020

Being the inaugural Olympic surfing event, all the countries who have qualified will be eager to make their mark. The USA has a deep history based upon the roots of the sport itself. Australia is renowned for its strong surfers and for dominating decades of elite competition. More recently, Brazil has begun to pave the way for Latin America with its undeniable "Brazilian storm", establishing a new dominance within a sport that is now second only to football (soccer) in popularity.

For years, athletes from these countries have been leading contenders on the men's championship tour of the World Surf League (WSL). They include World Champions such as John John Florence and Kelly Slater from the USA, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson from Australia, and Gabriel Medina and Adriano De Souza from Brazil. Other surfers who have had outstanding performances on the Tour include Kolohe Andino from the USA, Italo Ferriera from Brazil, Jordy Smith from South Africa and Kanoa Igarashi from the host country Japan.

On the women's side, surfing history has been dominated by Australia and the United States over the last decades. World Champions include Stephanie Gilmore and Tyler Wright from Australia and Carissa Moore from USA. Other women that have stood out recently include Sally Fitzgibbons from Australia, Lakey Peterson and Caroline Marks from USA, and Tatiana Weston-Webb and Silvana Lima from Brazil.

Who will be crowned the first ever Olympic Surfing champions at Tsurigasaki Beach?