When did surfing start in the Olympics? All the facts and details

When did surfing start in the Olympics? All the facts and details

Helix Odhiambo
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:26 PM

Surfing is a water sport where athletes ride a water wave using a board. They usually stand, sit, or maintain any position on a board while performing manoeuvres on waves. It is an exciting sport with deep roots and rich history. However, it took many years for the sport to get recognition in international competitions. So, when did surfing start in the Olympics?

When did surfing become an Olympic sport?
Carissa Moore of the USA celebrates winning the Gold Medal in the Tokyo 2020 Games at Tsurigasaki Beach on 27 July 2021 in Ichinomiya, Chiba, Japan. Photo: Ryan Pierse
Source: Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) elevated surfing to the competition in 2016. It was a limelight for surfers and fans who had long waited to see the sport in the tournament. According to sources, there are over 25 million surfers worldwide. So, what year did surfing start in the Olympics? First, let us understand what the sport is about.

What is surfing?

It is one of the most extreme sports, where surfers ride the waves in the sea or the ocean by standing or lying on a surfboard. The sport originated in the Southern Hemisphere in ancient times. It began as a hobby before being an official sport in 1920.

So, when did surfing become an Olympic sport? Here are details of surfing in the Olympics, when did it start, and who introduced it?

When was surfing introduced to the Olympics?

Was surfing in the 2016 Olympics?
Japan's Kanoa Igarashi (red) greets his coaching staff after his defeat by Italo Ferreira of Brazil in the Tokyo 2020 Games at Tsurigasaki Beach on 27 July 2021. Photo: Ryan Pierse
Source: Getty Images

On 3 August 2016, IOC members unanimously approved the proposal to include surfing in the Olympics. So, when did surfing become part of the Olympics? The decision came two years before the 2020 Tokyo games, which means it had to wait for quite some time to debut in the competition.

Was surfing in the 2016 Olympics?

Although the IOC introduced the sport in 2016, it only featured in Rio 2016. So, when did surfing enter the Olympics? Surfers competed for the first time in the Olympics in Tokyo 2020. Instead, the new events introduced in Rio were golf, sevens rugby and kitesurfing. While golf and rugby made a return to the competition, kitesurfing was making its debut.

How was surfing added to the Olympics?

Who introduced surfing to the Olympics?
Japanese pro surfer Shino Matsuda during a training session in Kamogawa on 15 May 2019. She is one of the most talented female surfers on earth. Photo: Charly Triballeau
Source: Getty Images

The IOC introduced the sport into the games, which usually decides the events eligible for the competition. IOC recognises games with worldwide reach, governed by the International Federations (IFs) and which adhere to the codes and ethics set by the body. Surfing passed the thresholds alongside karate, skateboarding, and sport climbing, making their debut in Tokyo in 2020.

Since when is surfing an Olympic sport?

It became an Olympic sport in August 2016. However, it did not feature in the Rio 2016 games. The sport debuted in Tokyo 2020 competition. Surfers competed for gold, silver, and bronze medals at Tsurigasaki Beach, Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

First gold medalists

When was surfing introduced to the Olympics?
Gold medalist Italo Ferreira (C) of Brazil, Japan's Kanoa Igarashi (L) silver medalist and Australia's Owen Wright (Bronze) celebrate during the Tokyo 2020 Games on 27 July 2021. Photo: Olivier Morin
Source: Getty Images

Italo Ferreira and Carissa Moore are the first Olympic gold medalists in surfing. Ferreira, a Brazilian surfer, paddled into the churning and unpredictable water to win the top prize in the men's category.

Moore, of the United States, made her victory look easy after clinching the gold in the women's category. Here is a breakdown of the medal winners in Tokyo 2020.





Italo Ferreira (Brazil)

Carissa Moore (USA)


Kanoa Igarashi (Japan)

Bianca Buitendag (South Africa)


Owen Wright (Australia)

Amuro Tsuzuki (Japan)

The scoring

The event has a panel of five judges who analyse the performance of each surfer before awarding the score. According to the game's rules, surfers score each wave on a scale of one to ten, with two decimal places. Here are details on how the scores work.

  • The judges' highest and lowest scores for each wave usually get discarded; therefore, the surfer scores the average of the three remaining scores.
  • Judges combine a surfer's two highest-scoring waves for an overall total.
  • A rider can also catch as many waves as possible without a limit on the number.
  • The duration of each heat can vary between 20 and 35 minutes. It usually depends on the conditions.
  • A perfect ride is 10 points; therefore, an ideal heat is a total score of 20 points.

Judging criteria

Is surfing in the 2032 Olympics?
France's Vahine Fierro competes in the Outerknown Tahiti Pro 2022, the Women's WSL Championship Tour, in Teahupo'o, French Polynesia, on 16 August 2022. Photo: Jerome Brouillet
Source: Getty Images

The judging panel use five criteria when awarding scores to the riders. The formula reflects the core elements of the sport. They are:

  • Commitment and degree of difficulty
  • Innovative and progressive manoeuvres
  • Variety of manoeuvres
  • Combination of major manoeuvres
  • Speed, power, and flow

Who introduced surfing to the Olympics?

Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku was the first to advocate for the sport's inclusion in the Olympic Games in 1920. Kahanamoku is a three-time Olympic freestyle swimming champion known for popularising surfing.

What year did surfing become an Olympic sport?

Who introduced surfing to the Olympics?
A surfer cycles around Enoshima Island, one of the Tokyo 2020 Games sailing competitions venues, in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, on 1 August 2021. Photo: Noriko Hayashi
Source: Getty Images

Kahanamoku advocated for the sport in the 1920s, and it took a century to enter the Olympics in 2020. Over the years, the sport has developed and spread in many countries. It is now one of the most exciting events to watch in the coming games.

2024 Olympic Games

Paris will host the 2024 Games, featuring 32 sports and over 300 events. Surfing is among the most anticipated competitions, expected to attract millions of viewers. It will have two categories; Men's shortboard and women's shortboard. The events will take place at Teahupo'o, a surf site for beautiful breathtaking waves.

Is surfing in the 2032 Olympics?

The 2032 Brisbane Olympics will feature surfing as an official sport. The event will unfold at the Gold Coast, Australia's most famous surfing destination. Four events will be in the men's and women's categories; shortboard, longboard, stand-up paddleboard, and bodyboard.

So, when did surfing start in the Olympics? You now have a deep background of the sport, including how judges award scores. It will be interesting to watch athletes battle for medals in Paris.

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Helix Odhiambo photo
Helix Odhiambo
Helix Odhiambo is an award-winning Kenyan journalist and content creator with over 6 years of experience. In 2016, he won the Goal Blaze Correspondent Award for young writers.