Surfers test waves ahead of sport’s Olympic debut at Tokyo

ICHINOMIYA, Japan (AP) — As one of the new sports added to the programme for 2020 Tokyo Olympics, surfing is arguably the most glamorous and is sure to bring a new dimension as the IOC seeks a younger audience.

The big question for Tokyo will be the quality of the waves. While Japan has a surfing culture that began over 100 years ago, the country isn’t known for the type of mammoth waves that can be found at surfing hotbeds like the North Shore of Hawaii or Big Sur in California.

Japanese surfers got a chance to check out the waves in a four-day test event that concluded yesterday at Tsurigasaki beach where the surfing event will be held.

On the east shore of neighbouring Chiba prefecture, Tsurigasaki is about a two-hour train ride from the centre of Tokyo. Through the final day of the competition yesterday, most of the feedback was positive, although some surfers said the waves weren’t big enough.

“There’s an idea that the waves aren’t sufficient but they were probably three to four feet, which is absolutely good contestable conditions for a solid competition,” said Executive Director of the International Surfing Association Robert Fasulo. “I think the novelty and uniqueness of what we are bringing is going to create a lot of interest.”

A surfer competes during a test event at Tsurigasaki beach, a venue for surfing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, in Ichinomiya, Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo. – AP

One of the most popular surfing spots in Japan, Tsurigasaki was selected because it has more consistent waves than other locations near Tokyo.

“I think this beach was chosen for its consistent waves,” said Japanese surfer Hiroto Ohhara. “The waves were a bit small. I plan to surf a lot and gain as much experience as I can, since I know this beach I hope to be able to use it to my advantage during the Olympics, if I qualify.”

Fasulo said they expect a maximum 4,000 spectators during the Olympic competition. The surrounding community does not boast a lot of infrastructure so many spectators will be looking at a long commute.

“It’s a little far, there is no question about that,” Fasulo said “But that’s the nature of our sport. The people who know and love our sport are willing to travel a little bit farther because the destinations require that.”

The competition will be held over four days but organisers have given the surfing event a window of eight days if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Surfing’s push to be included in the Olympics has a long history but got a big boost in 2014 when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) realised the need to add more youthful, vibrant sports to the Olympic programme.

A total of 26 sports applied for inclusion in the 2020 Games and in August of 2016, four new sports, including surfing, were added. The other new sports are karate, skateboarding and sport climbing. The combined events of baseball and softball are returning after being dropped after Beijing in 2008.

The IOC has also approved the inclusion of surfing on the programme for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.