Surfing will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. A total of 40 athletes (20 men and 20 women) are expected to compete. The men’s and women’s competitions will use the same format and rules.

Two events will be contested in Tokyo:

  • Men’s Surfing* (or Men’s Event)
  • Women’s Surfing* (or Women’s Event)

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. A nine day waiting period is allotted to ensure competition can happen on days with the best conditions. 


Competition is broken into multiple rounds:

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 ‘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.

Heat Overview

Heat Length:

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.

Wave Limit:

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.


Each wave that a surfer rides is evaluated by a panel of five judges on a scale of 0.1 to 10.0. The highest and lowest of the five scores are discarded. The surfer’s score is the average of the three remaining marks. Each surfer’s two best scoring waves are added together to determine their heat total (out of a possible 20 points).


If two or more surfers are tied at the end of a heat, ties will be broken as follows:

  1. Highest single wave score during the heat
  2. Highest total of three wave scores during the heat (then four waves, five waves, etc.)
  3. The scores will be re-tabulated using all five judges’ scores (instead of just the middle three)

If a tie cannot be broken using the above criteria, a re-surf involving the tied surfers will be held.

More information:

Official Tokyo site – Surfing

USA Surfing

International Surfing Association