Olympic Preview: 11 Stunning Photos of Elite Surfers in Action

For the first time in history, surfing is headed to the Olympics. And, these surfing Olympians are making waves at the qualifying events.

A lot is riding on surfing’s Olympic debut. Gaining acceptance from the International Olympic Committee has been a century in the making—an effort first spearheaded by native Hawaiian and five-time Olympic medalist (for swimming) Duke Kahanamoku.

Known today as the “father of modern surfing,” Kahanamoku traveled internationally to popularize the sport—including the 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm, where he used his rock star status to push for surfing to become an Olympic event

One hundred years later, the International Olympic Committee unanimously decided (in 2016) to include surfing in the Olympic Games for the first time. History is now in the making as the world’s most elite surfers head to the shores of Japan to compete in the sport’s first-ever Olympic Games.

While surfing primarily consists of two disciplines—shortboard and longboard—athletes will only use shortboards to compete at the Tokyo Games. (A shortboard is less than seven feet tall, typically features a pointy nose, and is lightweight, making it perfect for advanced maneuvers like aerials, cutbacks, etc.) 

Surfers will be judged on the type and difficulty of the maneuver performed, as well as speed, power, and flow. They’ll be scored on a scale from 1 to 10 (with two decimals). 

A total of forty surfers (twenty men and twenty women) heralding from seventeen different countries will compete at the Games, demonstrating the universality of the sport. To qualify, surfers had to participate in the 2019 and/or 2021 World Surfing Games. Here, we preview the roster of talent in thrilling photos from the qualifying events. 


1. Carissa Moore (United States)

Carissa Moore
Carissa Moore does a slashing turn off a wave while competing in the Women’s Qualifying event—Heat 3 during the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro. Image via Allen J Schaben/​Los Angeles Times/​Shutterstock.

Carissa Moore of Hawaii became the first American female to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut while clinching her fourth surfing world title in Hawaii. She is ranked the number one surfer in the world—and she’s showing no signs of slowing down. The Olympics present a new feat for the decorated athlete, where she’s favorite to win gold. 


2. Gabriel Medina (Brazil)

Gabriel Medina
Gabriel Medina does an aerial high off a wave, placing second during the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro. Image via Allen J Schaben/​Los Angeles Times/​Shutterstock.

All eyes are on Brazilian surfer Gabriel Medina, a two-time world champion beloved by the pros. He’s known for his ruthless, relentless, and competitive drive, which he’ll no doubt bring when he hits the surf at the Games.  


3. Caroline Marks (United States)

Caroline Marks
Caroline Marks rides a long barrel ride while competing in the Women’s Qualifying rounds at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro. Image via Allen J Schaben/​Los Angeles Times/​Shutterstock.

Caroline Marks was the youngest surfer to qualify for the women’s Championship Tour. She was also the first woman to be paid the same prize money as her male counterpart and is set to represent Team USA in surfing’s first Tokyo Olympic Games. The twenty-year-old has celebrated many firsts, but the Olympics is “one of the biggest—if not the biggest accomplishment” of her career


4. Italo Ferreira (Brazil)

Italo Ferreira
Italo Ferreira of Brazil competes at the 50th Annual Billabong Pipe Masters Surfing Tournament in Haleiwa, Hawaii. Image via MediaPunch/​Shutterstock.

Brazil’s Italo Ferreira, one of the most explosive surfers in the business, learned to surf on a three-foot-long cool box lid. (It was the cool-box his father used to transport food to restaurants in Baia Formosa, a small coastal town in the far north of Brazil.) Fortunately, Ferreira graduated to a real surfboard, and has since won the world title in the 2019 World Surf League.  


5. Stephanie Gilmore (Australia)

Stephanie Gilmore
Stephanie Gilmore catches a long tube ride while competing in the Women’s Qualifying rounds at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro. Image via Allen J Schaben/​Los Angeles Times/​Shutterstock.

Stephanie Gilmore is one of the most dominant surfers in history—a household name for fifteen years and seven-time World Surf League champion. Will she add a gold medal to her list of achievements? That remains to be seen.




6. John John Florence (United States)

John John Florence
John John Florence at the Billabong Pipe Masters at The Banzai Pipeline in Haleiwa, Hawaii. Image via MediaPunch/​Shutterstock.

John John Florence made an incredible comeback from an ACL injury in 2019 to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. However, he suffered another injury resulting in surgery on his other knee in May 2021.

The twenty-eight-year-old faces a race against time to be fit again before the Olympics start. If he’s able to pull it off, he should be among the top contenders in the competition.


7. Johanne Defay (France) 

Johanne Defay
Johanne Defay of France gets a victory chair ride up the boat ramp as she celebrates defeating reigning Surf Ranch champion and four-time world champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii to win the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro. Image via Allen J Schaben/​Los Angeles Times/​Shutterstock.

Johanne Defay of France is set to compete in the Tokyo Olympics on an ultimate high after defeating the reigning Surf Ranch champion and four-time world champion, Carissa Moore, at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro. Her victory event was the sixth stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour and the final event ahead of surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo.


8. Kolohe Andino (United States)

Kolohe Andino
Kolohe Andino of the U.S. gets in some practice at Bolsa Chica State Beach before heading to the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games. Image via Allen J Schaben/​Los Angeles Times/​Shutterstock.

As a second-generation pro following in the footsteps of his father, Kolohe Andino was in a way destined to become a surfer. But the San Clemente native paved his own path, too, notching three top-five finishes in the WSL season standings. 


9. Mahina Maeda (Japan)

Mahina Maeda
Mahina Maeda competes at the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan. Image via Aflo/​Shutterstock.

Mahina Maeda was raised on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, but she will surf for her parents’ home country, Japan, giving her an opportunity to present the duality of her cultural identity.


10. Kanoa Igarashi (Japan)

Kanoa Igarashi
Kanoa Igarashi does an aerial during finals day at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro at the Kelly Slater WSL Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California. Image via Allen J Schaben/​Los Angeles Times/​Shutterstock.

After placing sixth in the World Surf League’s Championship Tour in 2019, Kanoa Igarashi only needed to participate in the World Surfing Games in El Salvador to seal his place in the Tokyo Olympics. Still, he over-delivered, coming in second place. Next stop: Tokyo. 


11. Pauline Ado (France)

Pauline Ado
Pauline Ado of France competes at the World Surf League 2020 French Rendez-Vous at Chambre d’Amour. Image via Mickael Chavet/​Shutterstock.

Pauline Ado claimed the ISA World Surfing Games crown, and she did it on her home turf, cruising to her first World Surfing Games title in her fourth appearance at the signature event.

The Tokyo Olympics surfing program will take place at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Chiba, Japan, from July 25 to August 1, 2021.


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Cover image via Allen J Schaben/​Los Angeles Times/​Shutterstock.

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