To the casual observer, Japan wouldn’t seem to be a surfing hotbed when compared with wave-intensive locales in the United States and Australia. But any nation comprising 7,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean is bound to have some good swells — at least good enough for surfing to be included as an Olympic event for the first time at this year’s Tokyo Games.

Here’s a look at one of the Olympics’ newest competitions, and what you need to know about surfing at the Tokyo Games.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does the Olympic surfing competition work?
  • Where will the Olympic surfing competition take place?
  • What is the schedule for Olympic surfing?
  • Who are the top American hopefuls in Olympic surfing?
  • Who are the top international hopefuls in Olympic surfing?

How does the Olympic surfing competition work?

There is one surfing event for men and one for women. The initial rounds will consist of 30-minute heats featuring four or five surfers competing at the same time. Each surfer will be allowed to ride a maximum of 25 waves, and their two highest scoring waves — as scored by a five-judge panel — will count toward their heat total.

The judges will score the surfers on degree of difficulty; the innovation, combinations and variety of their maneuvers; and speed, power and flow. The surfers will have to follow accepted etiquette — the person closest to the peak of the wave has the right of way — and interference may result in point deductions.

Final rounds will feature heats of two surfers competing at the same time, with the winner advancing based on points.

Where will the Olympic surfing competition take place?

Olympic surfing will take place at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach on the Chiba coastline, about 40 miles southeast of Tokyo. Tsurigasaki has hosted a number of surfing events and produces consistent swells.

“It’s basically the farthest east point of Japan, making it a catcher’s mitt to any swells from the north, east and south, depending on the season,” a surfer named Ben, who lives across the street from the venue and surfs there every day, told Wavelength magazine in February.

What is the schedule for Olympic surfing?

The surfing competition is scheduled to take place over four days, with the gold medal matches scheduled for July 27 (the women at 8:30 p.m. Eastern and the men at 9:15 p.m. Eastern). Those dates are merely placeholders, however, as the event could be delayed if proper conditions are not present.

“This is one of the difficulties in having a competition in the ocean,” Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association, said in 2018. “They need initial competition dates to put some pins on the wall to start selling tickets. And if we have a good swell, we’ll run then — but if not, we have all the way through August 9th to run. They do the same thing in sailing — if there’s no wind, they can’t run, but they need to have dates on the board.”

Who are the top American hopefuls in Olympic surfing?

Carissa Moore has four world titles on the women’s side, and John John Florence won consecutive world titles in 2016 and 2017. Also representing the U.S.: Caroline Marks on the women’s side and Kolohe Andino on the men’s side.

Who are the top international hopefuls in Olympic surfing?

The United States and Australia have historically dominated the sport internationally, but the Brazilians are a rising force. Those three countries, along with Japan, Peru and France, each have the maximum four surfers (two men and two women) in the Olympic field.

Australian Stephanie Gilmore has seven world titles, the most recent in 2018. Brazilians Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina also have won world titles and should contend for medals.

Portugal, South Africa, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Israel, Ecuador, Indonesia, Morocco, Chile, Germany and Argentina all have at least one surfer in the men’s or women’s Olympic field.