Olympic Surfing Highlights: Tokyo 2021

Surfing finally made its debut in the '2020' Summer Olympics in Tokyo but was postponed to 2021. It was one of the five additional sports proposed to the Olympic programme and has been included to bring light to more youthful and vibrant events.

The International Surfing Association's president, Fernando Aguerre, commented that the qualifying surf heats were filled with surprises and unexpected results where top professionals were facing challenges throughout the games.

With surfing returning to the Olympics in 2024, we've got a lot to look forward to over the next few years. It's been an exciting time for surfers worldwide, read on to find out about this year's wipeouts, broken boards, gold medals and more.

Italo Ferreira coming first in the Men’s Surfing Olympic Games

Rede do Esporte, CC BY 3.0 BR, via Wikimedia Commons

Surfing in the Olympics

The three-time Olympic freestyle swimming champion, Duke Kahanamoku, first advocated surfing in the Olympics Games in 1920.

The International Surfing Association's (ISA) President, Fernando Aguerre, has since pursued his own dream of surfing to make its debut in the Olympics over the past two decades.

In August 2016, the ninth and current president of the Olympic Committee agreed to add surfing to the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.

Thomas Bach's reasoning for this was, "We want to take sport to the youth. With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them. Tokyo 2020's balanced proposal fulfils all of the goals of the Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendation that allowed it. Taken together, the five sports are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events that are popular in Japan and will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games".

How is Olympic Surfing Judged?

Competitive surfing requires the surfer to determine which wave to catch and what moves will best use their environment. Timing and positioning are everything.

Carissa Moore, the first female Olympic gold medallist in surfing, explains. "You have like a wave that's never the same, so you're constantly having to adjust to what you're seeing and adapt to the situation."

As the ocean is an element we have no control over, surfing is competed for over an uneven playing ground. Each wave is different from the next, making the judging criteria dependent on the surf conditions and how well the manoeuvres are executed.

With subjective scoring and unpredictable conditions, surfing is a four-dimensional sport that has left us with some exciting and memorable moments after Tokyo's Olympic Games.

For the Surfing Olympic scoring, a panel of surf experts were chosen to judge and score the qualifiers out of 10.

Each surfer rides as many waves as they can catch during a heat of 20-35 minutes. The surfers ride in a heat of four or five, or compete one-on-one, depending on the round. The judges score each of the surfers heats out of 10.

The middle three scores are then averaged, and then the surfer’s top two ride scores were combined, totalling their heat score out of a perfect score of 20. Scores were not carried over from one heat to another.

Judges considered:

  • Difficulty
  • Innovation
  • Combinations
  • Variety
  • Speed, power and flow

Who Competed in the Surfing at the Olympics?

Overall, 20 men and 20 women competed throughout the Olympics; it was limited to two surfers per nation and gender, meaning a maximum of 4 qualifiers.

2021 Male Olympic Surfers:


  • Gabriel Medina – Brazil
  • Italo Ferreira – Brazil
  • Kolohe Andino – USA
  • John Florence – USA
  • Owen Wright – Australia
  • Julian Wilson – Australia
  • Jeremy Flores – France
  • Michel Bourez – France
  • Kanoa Igarashi – Japan
  • Hiroto Ohhara - Japan
  • Jordy Smith – Russia
  • Leo Glatzer – Germany
  • Miguel Tudela – Peru
  • Lucca Mesinas – Peru
  • Manuel Selman – Chile
  • Rio Waida - Indonesia
  • Frederico Morais – Portugal
  • Billy Stairmand – New Zealand
  • Ramzi Boukhiam - Morocco
  • Leandro Usuna – Argentina

2021 Female Olympic Surfers:


  • Carissa Moore – USA
  • Caroline Marks – USA
  • Tatiana Weston-Webb – Brazil
  • Silvana Lima – Brazil
  • Brisa Hennessy – Costa Rica
  • Leilani McGonagle – Costa Rica
  • Sally Fitzgibbons – Australia
  • Stephanie Gilmore – Australia
  • Johanne Defay – France
  • Yolanda Sequeria – Portugal
  • Teresa Bonvalot – Portugal
  • Daniella Rosas – Peru
  • Sofia Mulanovich - Peru
  • Mahina Maeda – Japan
  • Amuro Tsuzuki – Japan
  • Pauline Ado – France
  • Anat Lelior – Israel
  • Bianca Buitendag – South Africa
  • Ella Williams – New Zealand
  • Dominic Barona – Ecuador

Medal Favourites

Before the games commenced, the public had already picked out their medal favourites, including:

  • Brazil's Gabriel Medina - Medina has won two world titles and is coached by former pro surfer Andy King.
  • Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi - Igarashi has been professionally competing in surfing since 2012 and is ranked 8th in the men's championship tour.
  • Australia's Stephanie Gilmore - Gilmore is a seven-time world champion otherwise known as 'Happy Gilmore'.
  • USA's Carissa Moore - Moore has been surfing since the age of 5 and was named Rookie of the Year at 17.

2021 Tokyo Olympic Medallist Highlights

Men's Olympic Surf Results


  • Gold Olympic Medallist – Italo Ferreira (Brazil)
  • Silver Olympic Medallist – Kanoa Igarashi (Japan)
  • Bronze Olympic Medallist – Owen Wright (Australia)

The first male Olympic gold medal was awarded to Italo Ferreira, whose journey was filled with the unexpected. Ferreira had to overcome breaking his board on his first wave to beat Japan's sensational surfer Kanoa Igarashi in the final.

Ferreira, recognised as the reigning champion in the World Surf League, earned an impressive 7.77 and 7.37, totalling 15.14 points out of a perfect twenty, leaving Igarashi fraught with catching up. Igarashi received a silver medal for his score of 3.83 and 2.77, totalling 6.60.

The bronze medal match was just as exciting as Owen Wright from Australia competed against Brazil's Gabriel Medina. In 2015, Wright sustained a brain injury during a wipeout; throughout his journey, Wright has had to relearn how to surf.

Wright scored an impressive 6.50 and 5.47, combining to make a heat score of 11.97. Medina scored 5.43 and 5.77, totalling 11.77, making for an incredibly close call.

Women's Olympic Surf Results


  • Gold Olympic Medallist – Carissa Moore (USA)
  • Silver Olympic Medallist – Bianca Buitendag (South Africa)
  • Bronze Olympic Medallist – Amuro Tsuzuki (Japan)

USA's Carissa Moore from Hawaii won the first-ever gold Olympic medal for women's surfing in the historical games!

Competing head-to-head ​​with South Africa's Bianca Buitendag, Moore scored 7.33 and 7.60 throughout her six waves, topping Buitendag's heat score of 8.46 after catching eight waves, earning Buitendag the silver Olympic medal.

The bronze medal match consisted of Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki competing against Caroline Marks from the USA. Tsuzuki, who was initially trained in classical ballet, scored herself a total of 5.00. Marks took her time in hopes of pulling off a late win; although having a powerful backhand style, she failed to take the win and scored a total heat score of 4.26.

We hope these games have inspired you to pick up your board and hit the waves. Surfing has come a long way, and here at Wetsuit Centre, we are incredibly proud of our first-ever Olympic medallists. Who knows, you might be next? It all starts with a beginner surfboard!

For more information about surfing, please browse through our blog or contact a member of our team, who will happily help you find the perfect wetsuit and board!

Feature Image: Pullwell, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons