Want To Surf In The Olympics? The International Surfing Association Have Just Announced How You Can


Photo of Alyssa Spencer of the USA by Ethan Smith

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic games are just two years away now and for the very first time, surfing will feature. If you’re lucky enough to qualify to surf for your country, it means you’ll experience the opulent opening ceremony, Olympic village life and potentially winning a coveted Olympic medal in your countries colours.

It’s funny because at the start of the year I was profiling athletes and I asked them whether they feel proud representing their countries when they’re surfing the qualifying series and championship tour, the common replies were ‘It’s not really about surfing for your country’ and ‘you don’t really think about that’. But the Olympic Games is a whole nother matter. It’s ALL about your country.

Now, one thing to remember before reading this is that it is a little confusing. But in summary, only 20 countries (in total 40 surfers will compete – 10 men and 10 women from each country) will be allowed to be represented in the Olympics. The World Surf League Championship (WCT) surfers will take up 18 of these places, ISA World Games surfers will take up 10 of the places, two of the places will be take up by the 2019 Pan American Games winners and one place will be given to the host nation, Japan.

Additionally, any one nation can have two surfers of each gender. So Australia, the USA and Brazil can account for 12 of the 40 available places.

Most of the bigger countries have started forming Olympic development squads. Here in Australia, the squad consists of three members of the Wright family alone – Tyler, Mikey and, Owen. China’s development squad is in full swing, although with no surfers on the Championship Tour they’re going to depend on the ISA World Games placings. Then we get to the interesting area of Hawaii, a state of America.

We’re still unsure of how the format of the competition will run but it’s not going to shift too far from the existing World Surf League format. What will be interesting, will be how many people rediscover their long-lost family heritage to increase their chances of surfing. Do you have family heritage in one of the 103 International Surfing Association (ISA) countries? If you do just make sure you do really well at next year’s 2019 ISA World Games and you’ll be taking your country to the Olympics for surfing.

One thing is for sure, with WCT surfers being made to surf in the ISA World Games in 2019, it’s going to make the ISA games a whole lot more exciting, for the little-known athletes and the international webcast audience.



So how do you actually qualify? Here is the list of available spots and how you can be eligible: 

The key elements of the qualification system are as follows:

  • 20 men, 20 women.
  • Maximum of 2 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.

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The order of qualification looks like this:

  1. 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour:
    First 10 eligible men and first 8 eligible women.
  2. 2020 ISA World Surfing Games:
    First 4 eligible men and first 6 eligible women.
  3. 2019 ISA World Surfing Games:
    4 men and 4 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.

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ISA President Fernando Aguerre who was pivotal in securing the sport into the Olympics is notably stoked. “This is another historic moment for the sport of Surfing, and for all of us who have dreamt of our sport’s inclusion in the Olympic 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. 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.

“Olympic Surfing’s debut at Tokyo 2020 promises to be a unique moment. Together with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 we have pledged to bring Surfing’s vibrant culture and youthful energy to the Games in the form of an Olympic Beach Festival, which will run alongside the competition, and give an exciting dimension to the Olympic Surfing experience.

“We are delighted to continue to work alongside the IOC and the Tokyo Organising Committee to put together the best conditions for Surfing’s Olympic debut. I wish the many athletes from around the world the best of luck as they embark on this exciting journey through qualification.”

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