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EXPLAINER: The highly-anticipated debut of surfing in the Olympics and its first-ever gold medalists

By Brooke Villanueva Published Jul 29, 2021 8:47 pm

Surfing has finally debuted at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at the Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach. 

In this sport, participants are expected to ride the waves and align their movements with the wind’s strength and direction, considering the tide’s ebb and flow as the biggest factors. “No two waves are alike, making surfing a competition where athletes compete against each other while balancing the changing conditions of nature,” according to It’s divided into two categories based on the board’s size and type: the longboard and the shortboard. 

Surfing at the Olympics 

The sport was made popular by Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii, who has long been known as the father of modern surfing. As stated on the same website, he “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.”

In August 2016, the International Olympic Committee has finally given the sport (including baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, and sport climbing) a go signal to be included in the Olympic program. “Surfing is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo, more than a century after Duke Kahanamoku first asked the IOC to consider including the sport,” as per the NBC Olympics

For this year’s games, 20 men and 20 women took part in different tilts, with initial rounds of four and five-person heats and main rounds of two-person heats. Each heat usually lasts for about 30 minutes, but it was still determined by the conditions of the day. During the period, each athlete was allowed to ride 25 waves at maximum. “Their two highest-scoring waves will count towards their heat total, which creates their heat result." 

How were their performances be evaluated? A panel of judges had in mind a criteria “based upon the key elements of commitment and degree of difficulty, innovative, and progressive maneuvers, combinations of major maneuvers, variety of maneuvers, and speed, power, and flow.” 

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A post shared by The Olympic Games (@olympics)

Who took part and reigned supreme during surfing’s Olympic debut? 

Athletes entered the Tokyo Games via different global tilts such as the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour as well as the 2019 and 2021 World Surfing Games. Most of them came from top countries that have made their mark in the surfing scene namely the United States of America, Australia, and Brazil. 

Carissa Moore of the USA, a four-time world champion, took home the highly-coveted gold medal in the women’s division. 

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A post shared by Carissa Moore (@rissmoore10)

She beat South African surfer Bianca Buitendag who bagged silver and Japanese surfer Amuro Tsuzuki who bagged bronze at the event. 

Meanwhile, in the men’s division, Italo Ferreira of Brazil, also a world champion, placed first. 

He defeated Kanoa Igarashi of Japan (silver) and Owen Wright of Australia (bronze). 

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A post shared by Owen Wright (@owright)

Gabriel Medina (Brazil), Kolohe Andino (USA), Michel Bourez (France), Hiroto Ohhara (Japan), and Lucca Mesinas (Peru) were also among those who joined the men’s division, while Caroline Marks (USA), Yolanda Hopkins (Portugal), Brisa Hennessy (Costa Rica), Silvana Lima (Brazil), and Sally Fitzgibbons (Australia) were among those who competed in the women’s division.

Article thumbnails from @isasurfing on Instagram