Surfing 101: Competition format

Surfing 101: Competition format
Posted at 2:48 PM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 16:33:45-04

A total of 40 athletes (20 men and 20 women) will compete in surfing's Olympic debut. Two events will be contested in Tokyo: Men’s Surfing (or Men’s Event) and Women’s Surfing (or Women’s Event).

Each nation can qualify two men and two women for the Games. Athletes qualified for Tokyo through a variety of international competitions, including the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour, and 2019 and 2021 World Surfing Games. 

The surfing schedule is dependent on expected wave conditions. While the norm for some Olympic sports is to postpone competition in case of bad weather, surfing is known to postpone competition if better conditions are expected later. If conditions allow, competition can be completed in just four days, but it is possible that more time will be required.

Surfing competition is broken into multiple rounds with heats. 

Each heat can last 20, 25, 30, or 35 minutes. Heat duration is determined by the technical director at the start of that day’s competition. 

Ahead of each day’s competition, the technical director will announce the wave limit for each heat; this is the maximum number of waves that each surfer can ride during a heat. 

Round 1 (20 surfers): This portion of the competition consists of five heats of four surfers. Heat start lists are determined by each surfer’s world ranking so that the best surfers in the world aren’t pitted against each other. The top two surfers from each heat will advance directly to round 3. The bottom two surfers will move onto round 2. 

Round 2 (10 surfers): This is essentially a ‘repechage’ or ‘second chance’ round that only consists of surfers who did not advance out of round 1. Heats are determined with a combination of a surfer’s world ranking, as well as his/her result from round 1. Round 2 will feature two heats of five surfers. The top three surfers in each heat will advance to round 3, while the bottom two surfers will be eliminated from medal contention. 

Round 3 (16 surfers): This starts the direct-elimination portion of the competition. Surfers are seeded into a bracket using their results from the first two rounds, as well as their world ranking. Round 3 features eight heats of two surfers. The eight winners in round 3 advance to the quarterfinal round, while the eight losers will be eliminated from medal contention. 

Quarterfinals (8 surfers): The quarterfinals feature four heats of two surfers. The four winners will progress to the semifinal round, while the four losers are eliminated from medal contention. 

Semifinals (4 surfers): There are two semifinals of two surfers. The two winners will progress to the gold medal heat, while the losers will advance to the bronze medal heat. 

Gold and Bronze Medal Finals (4 surfers): Athletes will compete for podium positions, with the two semifinal winners competing against each other for gold, and the two semifinal losers competing for bronze.