How to Watch Olympic Surfing - Stab Mag
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Italo Ferreira, warming up in neither Tokyo nor 2020. Photo: Ben Reed/ISA

How to Watch Olympic Surfing

It might be a nightmare. But we’ll guide you through it.

news // Jul 24, 2021
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Olympics will be unlike any other surf event you’ve seen, which feels like a redundant thing to say at this point. 

The waiting period is from July 25 – August 1, and it should take four days to run (or three if they really push it). Right now, the forecast suggests we’ll see action within the first few days in chest-head high waves. We already talked about five-person heats, logo-less boards, and the fact that surf brands have to remain silent during the event period

But there’s another big difference, and it will affect you—if you want to watch Olympic surfing, that is. 

This isn’t like a WSL event. You won’t be able to hit YouTube or Facebook, kick back, and enjoy a live feed for free. No, no, no. The Olympics don’t play like that. The most recognizable organization in sports believes in the product they create, and they aren’t just going to give it away. 

Here’s how it works: A group called the Olympic Broadcasting Services is tasked with producing streams for the 33 different summer Olympic sports. Each sport is unique, so each is approached differently—they tapped some insiders to help them run the surf side of things, which means you’ll hear familiar voices in the commentator’s booth. 

National networks then buy the rights to access and air whatever OBS streams they want, and design a TV schedule around that. This is not cheap. In the US, for example, the NBC network recently paid 7.75 billion dollars for the rights to air the next six Olympic Games. 

The moment we’ve all been waiting for. G. Medina, on a naked surfboard—and a Mayhem, no less! Photo: Sean Evans/ISA

To find the rightsholder in your country, click here. It should recognize your location and direct you to the right place. If it doesn’t, click here, find your country on the PDF, then Google the network name + Olympic coverage [example: Eurosport Olympic coverage] and you should be able to access the right information from there. 

The official Olympic schedule shows surfing’s Gold Medal Matches going down on Wednesday, July 28th—though it lists Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as “reserve days.” Continuing the example of NBC, their schedule does not show any reserve days. It was designed under the assumption that surfing would run for four days straight, instead of cherry-picking four days out of an eight-day window. How TV schedules will adapt to that is yet to be seen. 

Most broadcast rightsholders are likely to offer sport-specific live streams and immediate replays on their apps and websites, but it’s a region-by-region/network-by-network basis. You will almost certainly need to pay for a subscription to access these streams. To complicate things, networks in some regions might make you “authenticate” by proving you have a cable account that includes their channels. We recommend you sort that now, so you’re ready to roll for the first call at 7 AM Sunday morning, Japan time.

And that’s not the end of it. According the the IOC’s Social And Digital Media Guidelines for all Olympic athletes: 

Athletes can take photographs and record audio/video (using non-professional equipment) content of the Olympic Games (Olympic Games Content). Athletes can share Olympic Games Content on their personal social/digital media accounts or website, except for Olympic Games Content containing audio/video of the Field of Play¹ or Back of House² areas.

It goes on to define the field of play, as:

The area used for a sporting competition or ceremony (including the opening and closing ceremonies) plus the immediate surrounding areas, usually separated from the spectators by a clear boundary. The design and specifications of each differ from one sport to another. Also referred to as the slope, rink, sheet, track, court, field, piste, ring, etc..

Etc means the ocean. 

John John Florence, in the field of play. Photo: Ben Reed/ISA

So, you won’t scroll IG and encounter the 9.17 Italo drops in Round 1. Or Round 3. Or the Gold Medal Match. 

Well, you might. The rightsholders will be able to it on their social channels. A representative from NBC told us they have the rights to post surfing highlights on NBC Sports’ social and YouTube pages. However, it’s unclear whether or not they will deem Italo’s air to be as engaging as a good pole vault jump, so we’ll see how much they actually play.

The best place to track event results and schedule will be the ISA’s website, as they are the ones running the event. As we said earlier, the on/off call will be made every day at 7 AM Japan time—so figure out what that means for your region. Australian viewers, as well as those in their general time zone, will realistically be able to watch entire days of competition. Long days will run late into the night for people in the Americas, and Europeans and Africans will have their best shot at live viewing in the morning.

Of course, Stab will deliver you daily coverage of Olympic surfing. 

It’s going to be an interesting ride.

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