Qualification Process Finalized for Surfing at 2020 Summer Olympics

Last Friday, the International Surfing Association (ISA) announced that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had finalized the qualification process and competition format for surfing at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

While the entire qualification system can be read here, the key elements of the IOC’s plan are:

– 20 men, 20 women.
– Maximum of two surfers per gender per National Olympic Committee (NOC).
– Qualification spots will be earned on an individual basis, by name.
– In accordance with IOC guidelines, the qualification events have been determined in hierarchical order of qualification, as further explained below; If two surfers of a gender have qualified through the first hierarchical order, that NOC will not be able to qualify more surfers of that gender through qualifying events lower in hierarchical order.
– All surfers selected by their respective National Federations for their national teams must participate in 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games in order to be eligible for Olympic qualification. The final details of the eligibility requirements are still under review by the ISA and the IOC.

Kanoa Igarashi now represents Japan on the CT and will look to do so at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Photo: Courtesy of Tom Bennett/WSL

The years-long process of getting surfing onto the Olympic stage is finally starting to come into focus. It will include only a shortboard competition and eligible surfers will be determined from a mix of the World Surf League’s Championship Tour, the ISA World Surfing Games and the Pan American Games. The hierarchical order of qualification will be as follows:

1. 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour: First 10 eligible men and first eight eligible women.
2. 2020 ISA World Surfing Games: First four eligible men and first six eligible women.
3. 2019 ISA World Surfing Games: Four men and four women selected based on their continent. Top finishing eligible surfer of each gender from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
4. 2019 Pan American Games: First eligible man and first eligible woman in the surfing competitions.
5. Host nation slot: One man and one woman slot will be guaranteed for the host nation of Japan, unless already filled through the above hierarchies. Should athletes from Japan qualify regularly, their slots will be reallocated to the highest ranked eligible surfers from the 2020 World Surfing Games.

“The release of the qualification process is a key step on our journey towards Tokyo 2020 and surfers around the world now have a clear path to their Olympic dream,” ISA President Fernando Aguerre said in the release.

“I am excited to see how these incredibly talented athletes perform in qualification with the target of the Olympic podium now within their sight. This process assures true geographical universality, while providing a pathway for participation by the top professionals.”

Now that a path to qualifying for the Olympics as a surfer has been determined, the next step is figuring out what surfing in the Olympics will actually look like (i.e. what the competition format will be).

While it was initially announced by the IOC that the surfing competition at the 2020 Summer Games would take place in the ocean, the WSL’s specialty “region vs. region” event, the Founders’ Cup of Surfing, seems to be mimicking what an Olympics competition could look like in a wave pool, but that is yet to be determined. Once this event runs in May, perhaps we’ll get more clarity on what the format at the Olympics will look like.

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