Whilst surfers on the “Quey” were fighting it out in Huntington, about 4000 miles south in Punta Roca, Peru surfing made its first appearance at the Pan American Games. So frigging what? You have every right to ask. Well, it wouldn’t be a remotely big deal if that event hadn’t almost certainly provided the initial two surfers for the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. 

The winners, Peruvians Lucca Mesinas and Daniella Rosas, can now book their tickets for Tokyo. Now you’d also be excused for not knowing who these surfers are. Both are hovering around the 100 mark on the QS and are hardly household names, even in Peru. So just how did these two get the first slots, when it’s possible Medina won’t? Are you a little confused by who will be chosen for surfing’s debut at the Olympics? Fear not here are all the answers you need to know to get your head around the five-ringed circus. 

How Many Surfers Are Competing? 

A total of 40 surfers, 20 men, and 20 women, will compete for Olympic medals in the individual men and women’s shortboard categories. Ten men and eight women will come from the CT ranks. Each nation, however, is limited to a maximum of four surfers — two women and two men, which is crucial. The non-CT athletes will be selected from a hierarchical order of qualification that includes the 2020 ISA Games, the 2019 ISA Games, and the 2019 Pan American Games.  

Will All The Big Names Be In Tokyo?

No. The two surfers (of one gender) per country rule means some big names won’t make it to Tokyo. If we use the current Men’s CT rankings after J-Bay as an example, current World No. 2 Filipe Toledo and World No. 4 Italo Ferreira would be chosen to represent Brazil. With Brazil’s quota filled at that point, last year’s World Champion Gabriel Medina would miss out. With Brazil’s allocation filled there would be no pathway for Medina, or any other Brazilian surfer, to make the Olympics through any of the other ISA run qualifying events. John John Florence, even if fully fit by August by 2020, will also be absent, as the selection is based on the end of year 2019 Jeep Leaderboard. That does, however, open up an American slot, which Kelly Slater is currently in place to take alongside Kolohe Andino. 

Why Is Mesinas In and Medina Out? 

As we said just under half of the field will come from outside the CT ranks. The Pan Ams were the first of three selection events, offering a Men’s and Women’s place to surfers from North, Central, and South America. The 2019 ISA Games in Japan in September offer more places for the highest placed surfer from Australasia, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. The final slots will come from the 2020 ISA Games. The two surfers per country rule applies for these surfers too, but with Peru having no surfers on the CT, or other surfers likely to beat them in the other ISA events, Mesinas and Rosas are a lock. Now Mesinas is a real talent, as this Instagram post shows, but he’s unlikely to challenge the biggest names in the sport in Tokyo. 

Will There Be A Surfing Equivalent of the Eric the Eel?

Most Olympics tend to throw up one athlete who has overcome incredible odds to rise from obscurity and become a fan favourite. Eddie the Eagle was one, as was the Mozambican swimmer Eric “The Eel” Moussambani.  He had never been in an Olympic-sized swimming pool before when he swam his heat of the 100m freestyle at the Sydney Olympics in an unprecedentedly slow time. Now while it is theoretically possible that a surfer from Senegal, Afghanistan, Iran, Switzerland, Mongolia or Norway could come through the ISA ranks to make the Olympics and defeat the established CT stars of the sport in Tokyo, it ain’t going to happen. 

The winners from the ISA Games will probably come from established surf nations not represented on the CT tour. Portugal’s Frederico Morais, Spain’s Aritz Aranburu, for example, will fancy their chances, while the best surfers from Peru, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Japan, and South Africa will be hoping for a chance to win Gold. For those surfers getting to represent their country will be a massive achievement. A podium finish, however, is an unlikely dream.