Breaking Down the Qualification Process for Surfing in the 2020 Olympics

Hawaiian CT standout and former women’s world champ Carissa Moore. Photo: Courtesy Kelly Cestari/WSL

“This is a qualification year,” says Chris Gallagher Stone. He’s just finished a run at Costco and is on his way to a birthday party, so we chat while he drives over toward home on the North Shore of Oahu.

Next year, surfing (along with skateboarding and climbing) will make its first-ever appearance in the Olympic Games. And “Gally,” as his friends call him, has taken on the role as the United States Olympic surf coach, and is in the midst to trying to adapt to the rushed schedule. The Olympic Games will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan, from July 24 – Aug. 9, 2020.

“There’s a lot to do. It’s a learning process for everyone involved, that’s what I keep hearing about first-time sports in the Olympics,” continues Gally, who spent last year coaching South African pro Jordy Smith. “I was looking forward to being home with the family this year, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.”

For Gally and everyone involved in Olympic surfing, the learning process will continue all the way through the Tokyo Games, but there are a few things we know for sure. For American surf fans, the date to keep an eye on this year is Dec. 20. USA Surfing, the organization overseeing the national surf team, has announced that this will be when the U.S. Olympic surf team will be announced.

We might see San Clemente, CA local Kolohe Andino on the Olympic stage. Photo: Courtesy of Laurent Masurel/WSL

So, how exactly does one qualify for the Olympics?

Here’s the deal: There will be a total of 40 surfers competing in the 2020 Olympic Games – 20 men and 20 women. Each country can only bring a total of four surfers – two men and two women. This ensures that at least 10 surfing nations will get an opportunity to perform on the big stage.

The lion’s share of the competitors will come via the World Surf League (WSL). The top 10 men and top eight women at the end of the 2019 WSL Championship Tour will be eligible for the Games. The tour kicks off in Australia in April, and ends in Hawaii in December.

Based on their placing, four men and four women will emerge from the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games, which takes place at Kisakihama Beach in Japan from Sept. 7 – 15. This will also be a trial run for the Olympics and all Olympic hopefuls are required to surf in it, so expect to hear a lot of hype when the contest rolls around this fall.

The ISA World Surfing Games will also open up the opportunity for another four men and six women based on their final results. Additionally, the top finishing man and woman at the 2019 Pan American Games, which take place in Peru from July 26 – Aug. 11, will also be granted a spot in the Games.

South African standout Jordy Smith. Photo: Courtesy of Laurent Masurel/WSL

Finally, Japan, the host nation of the 2020 Olympic Games, is guaranteed a spot for a man and a woman if their allotment isn’t filled through the other qualification opportunities explained above.

“Some surfers are going to embrace this process and others are going to decide it’s not for them. Like I said, this is going to be a learning process for everyone. At the end of the day, the goal is to win medals,” surmises Gally as he pulls into his driveway near Rocky Point. “I don’t know if the surf world really comprehends how big this stage is going to be and what it could mean for the sport. This is going to be a big year and things are going to start happening pretty fast. It’s going to be exciting, that’s for sure.”

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