Surfing Preview

A sport born and bred in and around the Pacific Ocean will make its Olympic debut this summer in Tokyo, and it’s fitting that a pair of Hawaiians will be part of the first U.S. Olympic surfing team.

Hawaii natives John John Florence and Carissa Moore will join Californian Kolohe Andino and Floridian Caroline Marks on the team, having clinched their spots via their performance in the 2019 World Surf League. That globetrotting competition has been awarding world champions in one form or another since 1976, yet for many fans, the Olympic Games will be their first time watching surfing.

The surfing competition for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be held at Tsurigasaki Beach (also known as Shidashita Beach) in Chiba — about 40 miles around Tokyo Bay from Tokyo. USA Surfing’s official forecasting partner Surfline has been watching weather and wave patterns that bode well for good conditions during the late July window of 2021.

The window for competition at the Tokyo Games runs July 25 – August 1. With the help Surfline, Olympic leaders will identify the dates during that window with the best conditions to run surfing’s first Olympic competition. The contest could be compressed into two-and-a-half days but ideally will run over four days. 

The surfing competition is broken up into multiple rounds consisting of timed heats. The preliminary round features four or five surfers per heat; the competition then turns to a head-to-head single elimination format. Heats typically last 30 minutes but can range from 20 to 35. Surfers take turns catching waves and trying to put together their best performances for judges. However, they are not allowed to ride more than 25 waves per heat.

Scores range from 0.1 to 10.0. The surfer’s two highest scores are added together to make a total score for the heat. Highest score wins.

Updated on June 4, 2021. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

• The Tokyo Games will be the first time mainland U.S. and Hawaii surfers compete on the same team under the U.S. flag. For the World Surf League and International Surfing Association events, Hawaii has historically been given sovereignty for competitions because of its recognition as the birthplace of surfing.

• American women surfers held the top three positions in the World Surf League’s rankings in 2019 and 2020, which created an intense battle for our country’s two Olympic team spots. Moore (No. 1), Caroline Marks (No. 2) and Lakey Peterson (No. 3) have been competing together since they were young girls, continually pushing their performances to new heights. Marks and Peterson even share the same coach — Mike Parsons. Going into the summer of 2021 Moore held the top spot on this year’s tour, and could pull of an Olympic gold medal and fifth world championship combo.

• Florence entered the Olympic summer as the top U.S. men’s surfer on the 2021 tour at No. 6, while Andino has struggled with an ankle injury and has yet to find his top form. Regaining it will be a top priority heading into Tokyo.

The four U.S. athletes qualified directly based on performance in the 2019 World Surf League.

• Kolohe Andino (San Clemente, California) was the first American surfer to qualify for Team USA’s Olympic surf team with performances so strong he earned the position in October 2019, months before the WSL season ended. The son of a pro surfer, Andino won seven USA Surfing champion titles and nine National Scholastic Surfing Association championships — a record for boys under 18. Andino, 27, has an aggressive, acrobatic style. His default approach is going big, which makes him one of the most filmed and entertaining surfers. Many of his hometown “groms” (slang for a young surfer) look up to Andino, who is quick to encourage and support the region’s up-and-coming talent.

• John John Florence (Oahu, Hawaii) is a two-time world champion who came back from injury to gain Olympic qualification in 2019. Despite missing more than half the season recovering from ACL surgery, his first half was so impressive that he remained in contention for one of the top two U.S. spots. Upon returning for the WSL's final event of the season — the iconic Pipe Masters — Florence secured that spot and a place on the Olympic team, just edging out surfing legend Kelly Slater. Florence, 28, started surfing when he was just 2 years old. At the age of 13, he became the youngest person to compete in the Triple Crown of Surfing. Just six years later, Florence would win his first title and in 2017 clinched his second. His surfing is in a league of its own; he effortlessly pulls off freakish airs and maneuvers with athleticism and style.

• Caroline Marks (Melbourne Beach, Florida) made history as the youngest surfer (man or woman) to qualify for the World Surf League Championship Tour at just 15 years old in 2018, and had a performance so strong she was named WSL Rookie of the Year. Now 19, Marks finished her second year on tour ranked No. 2 in the world and matched that in 2020. She learned to surf with her brothers when she was 8 years old. Before going on the WSL Championship Tour, Marks racked up multiple USA Surfing championship wins, including winning the gold medal in the 2016 ISA World Junior Surfing Championships Girls Under 16 division.

• Carissa Moore (Oahu, Hawaii) could be on her way to a fifth world title, and second in a row, with a No. 1 world ranking going into the Olympic summer. She surfs with power and finesse, and is known for her work to help young girls develop confidence and pursue their dreams. Moore, 28, started racking up wins at National Scholastic Surfing Association junior surf competitions and top spots at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships, where she helped Hawaii win a team victory. In all, she clinched a record 11 NSSA amateur titles. At age 18 in 2011, she became the youngest person (man or woman) to win a surfing world title and was the first woman to compete in the Triple Crown of Surfing, Hawaii’s most prestigious contest series featuring the world’s best male surfers.

• July 25-August 1, 2021: The Olympic surfing competition will be held entirely within this window depending on surf conditions.