Tokyo Olympics about to get gnarly as surfing makes its debut

Olympics

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — Surfing is making its debut as an Olympic sport this weekend. Here are the surfers to watch and how Japan is pulling off a surf contest at the mercy of Mother Nature.

The Beach and Heats

Surfers will compete in the Chiba Prefecture at Tsurigasaki Beach, 60 miles east of Tokyo. The beach was picked for its position on the coast and jetties that consistently funnel swell energy.

“It’s basically the furthest east point of Japan, making it a catcher’s mitt to any swells from the north, east and south, depending on the season,” surfer Ben Wei told Wavelength Magazine.

The competition will take place over four days, whenever the waves are best between July 24 – August 1. Twenty men and 20 women will compete in three rounds and three finals. Each heat will consist of 30 minutes. Surfers can catch as many waves as they want, but only their top two waves are counted for the final score.

Summer is usually not a good time of year in Japan for producing strong swells, but the wave gods are smiling on the Olympics. A solid swell is in the forecast that looks promising for generating enough waves.

Team USA

Four surfers will represent Team USA: two are from California and two are from Hawaii.

John John Florence

Hawaii’s John John Florence rides a wave in Teahupoo, on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. (GREGORY BOISSY/AFP via Getty Images)

DOB: 10/18/1992 Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii

Olympics.com writes, “Born opposite one of the most famous surfing breaks in the world, Pipeline, Florence was first exposed to the sport by his mother, Alex, who herself is a surfer. She introduced her eldest son and his two brothers to the ocean as soon as they could walk. The big time came for the surfer in 2011 when he made it on to the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT) – surfing’s most elite competition. After coming achingly close to the world championship title in 2013, Florence finally achieved the feat in 2016 before then repeating it in 2017.”

Kolohe Andino

Kolohe Andino looks on during a practice session at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 22, 2021. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

DOB: 3/22/1994 Birthplace: San Clemente, Calif.

Team USA writes, “Kolohe means ‘rascal’ in Hawaiian…Has two younger sisters…His youngest sister couldn’t pronounce Kolohe so-called him ‘Brother’ – a nickname that stuck on tour.”

Caroline Marks

Caroline Marks competes in final of the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic on April 20, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

DOB: 2/14/2002 Birthplace: Boca Raton, Fla. (Later moved to California).

Team USA writes, “Finished the 2019 WSL Olympic-qualifying season ranked No. 2 behind No. 1 Carissa Moore… The youngest female (at age 13) to compete in a World Surf League event.”

Carissa Moore

Carissa Moore competes during the 2019 Freshwater Pro-WSL in Lemoore, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

DOB: 8/27/1992 Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii

Team USA writes, “Four-time World Surf League World Champion…Enters the Tokyo Games ranked No. 1 in the World Surfing League. Surfs with remarkable power and finesse and is known for her work to help young girls develop confidence and pursue their dreams…Began surfing at age 5 and learned from her dad at Waikiki Beach…Considers the ocean her happy place.”

Toughest Competition: Brazil

Team Brazil has the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked surfers in the world.

Gabriel Medina

Gabriel Medina of Brazil competes in the semi-final of the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic at Narrabeen Beach on April 20, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Olympics.com writes, “Gabriel Medina is the Brazilian changing the tide in world surfing. Born in Sao Sebastiao, two-time World Surf League (WSL) champion Medina, is one of elite surfing’s most popular wave riders.”

Italo Ferreira 

Italo Ferreira is hit by a wave while standing on the rocks during a practice session at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 22, 2021. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Olympics.com writes, “When high-flying surfer Ferreira, well known for his aerial game, first got into surfing he didn’t have any boards of his own. In order to get out on the water he was forced to borrow boards from his cousins who were luckily all too happy to help.”

Tatiana Weston-Webb

Tatiana Weston-Webb
Tatiana Weston-Webb (Getty Images)

Olympics.com writes, “She was born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, to a Brazilian mother and a British father. Her family relocated to Kauai, HI. She represented Hawaii until she decided to represent Brazil in international competitions in 2018. ‘Brazil has always been an important part of who I am. I was approached by the Brazilian Olympic Committee with an opportunity to represent the country in a major way. It’s always been a dream of mine to compete in the Olympics and when surfing was announced as an official Olympic sport, I knew that my dream had a chance of becoming a reality. [Brazilian surfers] Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo, Italo Ferreira and my partner Jesse Mendes gave me a lot of support.'”

Surfing accepted as Olympic Sport

Adding surfing to the Olympics was a dream that started with pioneering one surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, 100 years ago. Kahanamoku was an Olympian himself and won a gold medal in the sport of swimming. He also loved riding waves and he shared his “aloha” spirit by introducing surfing all around the world.

In 2016, the International Olympic Committee officially and unanimously confirmed the inclusion of surfing in the Tokyo 2020.

There was one big question organizers debated: Should the competition take place in a man-made wave pool, or in the ocean? Wave pools provide predictability for scheduling and can be built anywhere. Nature ultimately won because the ocean has everything to do with the essence and soul of surfing.

IOC sports director Kit McConnell said: “We are looking at a natural beach for surfing. Japan has a number of strong surfing areas and strong existing surfing culture.”

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