Stab Magazine | Who Should Really Be Training For a 2020 Olympic Bid?

Who Should Really Be Training For a 2020 Olympic Bid?

Hint: it’s not necessarily the world’s best surfers.

news // Aug 24, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The 2020 Olympics are less than two years away and can you even believe it?

In just 700 short days, Outerknown’s grassfed wool will be drawn from the eyes of the non-surfing public and, via a worldwide simulcast from a nondescript beach near Tokyo, the world will finally realize how lame competitive surfing really is.

I’m not just being pessimistic for pessimism’s sake here. Think about it—from an Olympic spectator’s perspective.

The so-called best waveriders in the world sit like buoys for the majority of competition, do the same three wiggles every time they stand up, and fall on half their waves.

Speaking of the waves, well, let’s just say that short of a perfectly-positioned typhoon or a miraculous transition to a currently in-construction wavepool, the conditions will be meager at best.

Making matters worse is the fact that many of the world’s best surfers will not even be allowed to compete.


As per the current rankings, Italo Ferreira would not be invited to compete in Tokyo 2020. Photo: WSL


Due to the ISA x IOC’s official qualification system, as many as half of the competitors in the surfing competition will come from outside of the WSL Championship Tour, and perhaps more importantly, from outside of the world’s top surfing nations.

To reiterate their intricate system as simply as possible, it works like this:

  • Only two people per country, per gender will be eligible to surf in the 2020 Olympic Games

  • The first 10 slots will come from the 2019 Championship Tour end-of-season rankings – but remember, only two surfers per country will be allowed, so if we were to take a snapshot of the current rankings, the Olympic entrants would be: Filipe Toledo (BRA), Gabriel Medina (BRA), Julian Wilson (AUS), Wade Carmichael (AUS), Jordy Smith (ZAF), Michel Bourez (PYF), Kolohe Andino (USA), Jeremy Flores (FRA), Griffin Colapinto (USA), and Kanoa Igarashi (JPN)

  • The next four slots will be allocated to the top 4 finishers of the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games, which, if we were to base that off the most recent ISA Games (2017), we would get Jhony Corzo (MEX), Joan Duru (FRA), Jonathan Gonzalez (SPN), and Pedro Henrique (PRT). Given the circumstances stated above, had a surfer from Brazil, Australia, or the U.S. placed in the top four of this event, they would have been excluded from the Games on account of the two surfer per country rule.

  • The next four slots will go to the highest placed eligible athletes per continent (the Americas and Antarctica excluded), based on their 2019 ISA World Surfing Games results. One additional slot will be given to the highest ranked eligible surfer from the 2019 ISA Pan American games. Once again, a surfer from Brazil, the U.S., or Australia would not be eligible here. In this case of the Australian “continent”, a surfer from New Zealand or Oceania would be able to fill their continental slot.

  • The last slot would theoretically go to a Japanese national, but because Kanoa has – in this theoretical projection – qualified organically through the CT, it would go to the next highest eligible surfer from the 2020 ISA Games.

This is a lot to digest, I know, but between the legalese lives a thinly veiled secret: There will be a significant number of slots for middle-tier, non-major surfing nationality athletes to get an Olympic bid.


Like, say, Jhony Corzo from Mexico!

So while Australia is busy developing its Olympic team with hundred-thousand dollar training sessions at the Slater Ranch, it is, for all intents and purposes, throwing that money down the drain.

Based on the history of professional surfing, Australia’s two (per gender) surfers will be chosen based on their 2019 CT rankings. Therefore, putting money and resources into 13 surfers now, and especially those surfers who are not likely to find themselves near the top of the 2019 CT, is a genuinely fruitless labor.

And practicing at Slater’s pool while all of the official rhetoric points to an ocean-based event is either incredibly stupid or suspiciously prophetic.

But I digress.

The point is that it’s not Americans, Australians, or Brazilians who should be training for an Olympic bid –  it’s the mid-range QS grinders from Portugal, Mexico, Indo, South Africa, and New Zealand.

It’s Jonathan Gonzalez, Vasco Ribeiro, Jorgan Couzinet, Luca Messinas, Matthew McGillivray, Ramzi Boukhiam, and Carlos Munoz.

It’s Josh Burke from Barbados and Rio Waida from Bali.

It’s Reubyn Ash from fucking Britain.

With John John (probably) back in the picture for 2019 and Kolohe and Griff continuing their CT ascent, all the low-names listed above have a better chance of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics than does Kelly Slater.

It’s semantics, but it’s true.

And the funniest part is, if the waves are truly terrible for the Tokyo event, theoretically anything could happen.

Filipe will probably still win, but who knows? Maybe Reubyn Ash will be surfing’s first Olympic gold medalist.

The greatest surfer in the world… for the next four years. 

Wouldn’t that be Biblically comical?


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