The 2020 Olympic qualification process is well underway, with ‘CT surfers vying for top spots on the Jeep Leaderboard and the rest doing whatever the hell is required of them to secure the remaining spots. But more importantly than who makes the cut and gets to rep their respective countries, the big question remains: will there even be swell during the 2020 Olympics?
According to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics schedule, if the conditions allow, the competition can be completed in four days. However, the schedule is still subject to change depending on the waves. “Because of this,” according to a footnote on the schedule, “the actual competition days for the Surfing events will be held with 4 days schedule during the Olympic Surfing Festival (name tbc), from 26 July to 2 August.”
We all want to see real waves during the aforementioned window at Shidashita Beach (also known as Tsurigasaki Beach) next year, but Japan, though it does experience outstanding surf, can be a highly fickle location. Japan’s eastern, Pacific-facing coast is not unlike the United States’ East Coast, which is to say that there are long doldrums punctuated by runs of extremely good—even world-class—swell. In other words, hope is certainly there for an outstanding event to take place, but we wouldn’t place our bottom dollar on it, either.
Quality surf in Japan is somewhat dependent upon tropical cyclones or typhoons (the eastern hemisphere appellation for hurricane). Both hurricanes and typhoons (collectively known to scientists as “tropical cyclones”) tend to rear their ugly heads when waters are warmest, roughly from May to October, thrusting powerful east and southeast swells upon the shores of the island nation. Thankfully, the summer Olympics will fall smack dab in the middle of that time frame.
While it’s still too early to forecast exactly what will happen nearly a year from now, all of this, according to former Surfline’s Lead Atlantic Forecaster, Kurt Korte, and former Director of Forecasting at Surfline Mark Willis (currently Meteorologist-in-Charge at the National Weather Service), bodes very well for contestable surf, especially after consulting Surfline’s Forecast and Science teams and scouring nearly four decades worth of climatological data from around the area.
While many of us would love to see Olympic surfing take place in the natural world, even with the possibility of onshore chop and walled-up closeouts, a flop at surfing’s debut at the Games might lend credence to the belief of those who argue, resolutely, that the event should categorically be held in an artificial wave pool regardless of where the event might be held. Say, for example, the 2032 Summer Olympics are held in Mumbai or in another thoroughly land-locked city–where would the surfing competition take place if not in a wave pool?
Wave pool debate aside, whether or not we’ll see perfect head-high long-period peelers is in the hands of the elements. But Korte’s projection, backed by Willis’, is resoundingly positive: “Yes, Japan has waves. Yes, Japan has unique setups to take advantage of those waves. And yes, surfing in the 2020 Olympics, in the ocean, is happening.”