Olympic Surfing: facts, figures and history

April 19, 2019 | Surfing
Olympic surfing: 40 athletes will compete for gold, silver and bronze medals

For the first time in its long history, surfing will take part in the Olympic Games.

The sport of riding waves makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo 2020, nearly 100 years after pioneer surfer, Duke Kahanamoku envisioned that one day it would happen.

The world has around 25 million active surfers, but the sport appeals to a broader audience eager to embrace beach life.

With a rich history, a thriving culture, a healthy lifestyle and a growing number of fans and enthusiasts, surfing is the perfect addition to the Olympic movement.

And it will never be the same, after being broadcast on television to between four and five billion people.

Who will win the first Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals for surfing? The first-ever set of Olympic medallist will be decided in the Japanese coastline, in the Chiba Province.

But surfing's road to the Olympic Games was made of patience, persistence, hard work, and perseverance.

Japan: the Land of the Rising Sun has around two million recreational surfers | Photo: Evans/ISA

Here's everything you need to know about Olympic surfing:

1. The first surfer to ever win an Olympic medal was Duke Kahanamoku. In Stockholm 1912, he completed the men's 100-meter freestyle swimming final in 1:03.4;

2. Around 1919, Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing and one of the original Waikiki beach boys, dreamt of having his favorite sport in the Olympic Games;

3. In November 1992, Jacques Hele became the first president of the International Surfing Association (ISA) to suggest the inclusion of the sport in the Olympics;

4. In May 1994, Fernando Aguerre was elected chairman of the ISA and started lobbying for surfing in Sydney 2000;

5. In June 1995, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially recognized the ISA as the International Federation for surfing and bodyboarding. Wave riding was formally welcomed in the Olympic family;

6. In May 1996, Joao Havelange, President of FIFA, became an official ambassador for surfing;

7. In June 1996, Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of IOC, announces the creation of the "IOC President's Trophy," to be given to the winning team at the ISA World Surfing Games;

8. In November 1997, IOC requested two ISA flags, one for the IOC Headquarters and one for the IOC Museum;

9. Surfing was not considered for Beijing 2008 because it hadn't reached 75 national governing bodies;

10. In 2008, became the first surfer to win a gold medal awarded by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) at the Asian Beach Games. The event was the first ever International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized Beach Games;

Fernando Aguerre and Eduardo Arena: the president and the founder of the International Surfing Association | Photo: ISA

11. Sofia Mulanovich was the first surfer to represent the sport at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland;

12. Fernando Aguerre, president of the International Surfing Association (ISA), lobbied for surfing in the Olympic Games for decades. But he always said: "I like to walk before we run";

13. In 2009, Jacques Rogge, president International Olympic Committee (IOC), told Aguerre that "without man-made waves, surfing has very low chances for inclusion" in the Olympic movement;

14. In 2012, big wave surfer Gabriel Villaran carried the Olympic Flame through the roads of Milton Keynes, in London. The Peruvian ran 300 meters with the iconic torch before passing it to the next athlete;

15. On September 25, 2015, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee proposed the inclusion of surfing in the Olympic program. It was a historic day for the sport;

16. On August 3, 2016, IOC officially and unanimously confirmed the inclusion of surfing in the Tokyo 2020 sports program;

17. But on that day, Prince Albert II of Monaco, a member of the IOC, questioned surfing's podium format, stating that the sport "did not allow for a third-place finish." What the monarch-sailor didn't know was that surfing can run a losers' final for awarding a bronze medal;

18. Despite advocating the use of wave pools in the Olympic Games, Aguerre admits that surfing's debut will take place in natural waves;

19. The overall investment and the technical issues associated with the first generations of wave pools worried the Tokyo 2020 organizers. As a result, Mother Nature will have the last word;

20. Surfing is an incredibly popular sport in Japan. The "Land of the Rising Sun" has around two million recreational surfers;

21. Tsurigasaki Beach, also known as Shidashita Beach, in Chiba, near Tokyo, has been selected as the primary venue for surfing's Olympic debut;

22. Skateboarding, surfing's younger brother, will also make its first Olympic appearance at Tokyo 2020;

23. The world governing body for the sport of surfing (ISA) and the professional surfing world tour (World Surf League) agreed to equally share the 40 spots (20 men and 20 women) made available for athletes competing at Tokyo 2020;

24. Eighteen surfers will qualify via WSL's Championship Tour, and 18 surfers will earn a spot on the Olympic program via ISA's World Surfing Games and Pan American Games. Two Japanese surfers will receive a wildcard for the host nation;

25. In a format similar to the sailing program, surfing will have a waiting period of 16 days (July 24 - August 9) to run the ladder competition. Once it gets underway, it will only need 48 hours to award the gold, silver and bronze medals;

26. The Olympic surfing competition will adopt a four-athlete heat format that qualifies the top two riders to the next round. Each heat will be of 20 or 30 minutes;

27. Surfing's first Olympic pictogram was designed by Masaaki Hiromura and features a surfer throwing an aerial maneuver;

28. Hawaii, the birthplace of surfing, has always competed under its state flag. However, in the Olympics, islanders and mainlanders will all be surfing for the United States;

29. The organizers of Paris 2024 have included surfing - alongside skateboarding, climbing, and breakdancing - in the official 2024 Summer Olympics program presented to the IOC;

30. The ISA also hopes that surfing remains on the Olympic agenda, especially with Los Angeles 2028 on the horizon. Aguerre wants to have surfers competing for medals in California, the heart of the sport as a global phenomenon;

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