Olympic Surfing - What might it look like?

Posted by James Marshall on

It’s official - the father of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, will get his wish and surfing will be an Olympic sport in 2020. Many people sit on the for and against side of this topic, and both have valid arguments as I wrote about in this post here, last year. But now that it is going to happen in 4 years, how exactly will it look?


If Paris hosts the 2024 Olympics, Basque beauties like this are just down the road!

What do we know?

Well, we know that 20 men, and 20 women will represent their countries, many of whom won't be on the top tier championship tour. We also know that it will be a medal sport, as opposed to a demonstration sport like 10 Pin Bowling in 1988 (Big Lebowski was onto something), and that it will be high performance shortboard surfing (not SUP, longboard, bodyboard etc).

But what still needs to be worked out?

Ocean Waves or Wavepool?

For the time being in Tokyo, it has been confirmed that the competition will be in natural conditions, which I for one am thankful to hear. Surfline and Surfer Mag have reported that it will be held in the ocean at Shidashita, but I can't help but feel a wave pool is still an option behind the scenes. Why? Well, Paris, Rome, Budapest, and Los Angeles are bidding to host the 2024 games a wave pool must be an option in landlocked Budapest in the very least, should surfing prove popular in 2020.


It took a while to find a photo this good of Shidashita - hopefully conditions are this good! Pic courtesy of Surfline.

Allocation of Entries by Country

The biggest question for me is single or multiple competitors from each country. If you look at where the top competitive surfers usually come from, it is only a handful of countries; Australia, USA (including Hawaii, which is traditionally separated out by the WSL) and Brazil – so there goes Gold, Silver and Bronze. Maybe a South African (Jordy Smith) or European (Jeremy Flores) could upset that...maybe.

But, what if each country only receives one competitor in order to spread out the global input – would Kolohe Andino, and Kelly Slater miss out and JJF get to compete? A quick look at the current WSL rankings shows the 20th country represented in the rankings is currently Hiroto Ohara from Japan ranked 45th on the qualifying series (not the top tier championship tour); should he compete before Italo Ferreira and Julian Wilson, for example? I think not...Perhaps each country has a maximum of athletes, say a team of 4 – but how is that fair on the 5th highest ranked Australian, former world champ Joel Parkinson?

Joel Parkinson & Mammoth

Yours Truly with Parko; I would be gutted if he couldn't compete at the Olympics

This is the biggest conundrum and I'm not sure what the answer is, other than a bigger competition pool to begin with, but given 20 men and 20 women is one of the few confirmed details, I highly doubt that will happen.

What do you think?

Ultimately I think it is super exciting, and am simply highlighting some of the questions that need to be addressed. My only fear is that surfing falls victim to the same fate as golf whereby the best athletes (by choice or otherwise) aren't competing in the Olympics, so we need to get this right.

  • Wave pool, or natural break?
  • Should it use the WSL judging criteria?
  • Multiple, or single athletes from each country?

Let us know in the comments below!

Thanks again – Talk soon,

James (Mammoth)

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