Surfing at the Olympics: What to Watch and Expect in Tokyo


[surfer music playing] “Surf riding was once the sport of Hawaiian kings and queens.” The sport of surfing has come a long way since its ancient Polynesian roots. But the concept is still the same. Surfers head to the ocean to find the perfect ride. In 2020, surfing would be awarded one of the highest honors in the sport, a place for the first time at the Olympics. “So, the world’s biggest sporting event has been postponed.” [interposing voices] “Japan’s prime minister just announced his plan to postpone the summer Olympic Games.” I’m Bedel Saget, reporter for The New York Times. “Should I clean up the pile in here?” “No —” He recently spoke to eight of the best in surfing, all of which have qualified for the Olympics and are now scattered around the world. “OK.” “Hello there.” “Hi Caroline.” “Hello, Atalo.” “Should I begin?” “Yeah yeah.” “My name is John Florence.” “I am Owen Wright.” “I’m Sally Fitzgibbons.” For many, the introduction of surfing at the Olympics will be brand new and there are many things to watch out for. “Olympic surfing will be new. What do you think makes surfing unique?” For beginners, surfing is like no other sport. “I believe surfing has a different look and feel than many other sports.” TV announcer: “We have a full rotation.” “And I think skating or tennis or football -” “All that, you have a field or a court and everything is ready.” “— you can see everything in front of you.” But that’s not the case with surfing. “In surfing, you basically always have a changing playing field.” “We are not given a map of exactly how to surf.” “It’s very hard to win. And it’s very difficult for things to go your way.” “And that’s the challenge. You won’t know until you go.” Here’s how surfing will work at next year’s Olympics. At the most basic level, there are three types of surfing maneuvers. There is antenna. TV announcer: “Finds, goes on the air.” TV announcer: “It’s a full lap and a half.” “So when you leave the face of the wave.” “And when you have too much speed…” “Flying speed.” “Yeah, you’re literally in the air.” “Then you go and go down the wave again.” TV announcer: “She’s looking at an episode. Big flat air from Gabriel Medina.” “Sometimes it’s good to fly.” turns. TV announcer: “Medina bites her lip.” “And that’s where your board is on the wave side. And then she just draws the lines and it will flow through your entire spray board.” “And then -” And then the barrels. “The holy grail one.” “You’re just in this tunnel of water.” “You’re like my god, that’s it.” “A place where time slows down.” “And then everything-” [blowing] [blowing] “That kind of sound.” “It’s spitting out and it’s white and cloudy.” “Like boom, like fast.” “It always seems incredible every time you do it.” Surf’s first race at the Olympics will be held in Chiba on Tsurigasaki Beach, 40 miles southeast of Tokyo. “Let’s talk about the Olympic site Chiba.” “I feel like the conditions at Chiba are the ultimate stabilizers.” “Chiba surfing is a difficult wave.” Unlike the waves off the north coast of Oahu or Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, the waves in Chiba are known to be smaller. “You’re going to see really technical surfing.” “Too much action.” “Probably some spinning, some gymnastics on the water I guess.” “And the surfer who fits it best -” TV announcer: “John John goes to giant ally and sticks it.” “- mine.” TV announcer: “She says, ‘What more do you want? I’ll go show you some more.’ “Antennas are difficult maneuvers for many, especially in smaller, less powerful waves. But for Brazilians, this is second nature. “I always tell my friends in Brazil, the first move you learn is the weather.” “Many people believe Brazilians will have the advantage of surfing in Chiba.” “Yeah maybe. TV announcer: “Is he going to get an opportunity here? A complete rotation!” Brazilian or not, when a surfer lands in the air, it can be an outstanding and highly rewarded achievement: “The score is between 1 and 10 points.” This is Gabriel Medina doing a backflip for the first time in a competition. TV announcer: “Seeing him take off. He goes for a backflip and pulls it.” “You could call it 10.” He scored a perfect 10. The judges use three criteria to score each athlete’s performance Judge: “Overall, good to read the wave. Some tough parts.” “By the scores, you will be judged…” “Speed, power, and flow.” “Speed, power, and flow.” “Speed, power, and flow.” “Yeah, what does that mean to you?” “Speed, flow, power I need to get it at the same time.” Speed, power and flow are essential for any surfing competition. “This is the ultimate recipe.” “This is what we all want to achieve. And if we meet all these requirements —” “And if you do all three of them —” You’re bound to get some big scores. At the end of the day, you can ride as many waves as you want within the given time. “But it really depends on your two best rides.” “The two best waves on your score line.” “And that’s why you have to row strategically.” “There will be those who go left, there will be those who go right.” “Waves caught left, right and center.” There is a lot to be aware of. And surfing, like any other sport, has its fair share of healthy competition. TV announcer: “An interesting exchange here.” “What happens in the water? Is there any mind game going on? Is there any psychological warfare?” Sometimes it can be a very tactical game TV announcer: “Strider, do you see these two men fighting in the back? Intense.” “You can almost feel John John breathing down his neck.” “You definitely have those moments when some opponents have tactics.” “Would you like to say hello before the heat? Are you shaking your hands?” “I never make eye contact with anyone.” TV announcer: “Well, here we go.” And then there are the rowing battles. TV announcer: “Shoulder to shoulder, they’re shaking hands right now as I speak.” A race to the real starting line of surfing where the waves break. “Rowing is the greatest pastime.” “Oh, the rowing fight. I hate it.” “I don’t like rowing.” TV announcer: “Let’s see if we can have a rowing fight here?” The first surfer to get back to the starting line wins. And the reward? They take precedence – the ability to choose the next incoming wave. Most of the time, being tall is not an advantage in the water. But in a rowing battle, your height and wingspan can change everything. “Some have ultimate wingspan.” Take, for example, a man like Owen Wright. TV announcer: “It’s a good rowing fight – look at the size of Owen’s arms.” “My wingspan is 6’7, so…” TV announcer: “Owen Wright has four inches more wingspan than Michael Phelps.” “He looks like he’s older than me.” TV announcer: “That’s a good thing guys. I love it.” “So who will win the gold?” “Well, I would love to win gold.” “I’m definitely dreaming of a gold medal.” Guys are you kidding?” But there’s something about surfing here. At the end of the day, he doesn’t care about ocean hold times, priority or nationality. And fans know that. There are never any guarantees. But that’s what makes him so excited. If the waves don’t cooperate, someone doesn’t care about the Olympics. For the surf’s debut at the 2020 Olympics, postponed until 2021, the best surfers can get the best waves. [cheering]


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