The World Surfing Games have existed in one form or another since 1964, when Australians Phyllis O'Donnell and Midget Farrelly were crowned surfing's first world champions on the sands of Sydney's Manly Beach.
In the 1960s surfing was seen as a way of life by many counter-culture dropouts, dismissed as a sport by the mainstream and was an amateur pastime at best. Half a century later, the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games presented by Vans are being held in Miyazaki in Japan. To say it's been a big 55 years for surfing's growth would be a massive understatement and the hype around this week's event is huge.
The 2019 (and 2020) ISA World Surfing Games presented by Vans are compulsory checkpoints on the road to Olympic qualification, so for the first time ever a full contingent of the World Surf League's leading Championship Tour surfers are suiting up to represent their countries, hoping to earn the right to one of the 20 male and 20 female spots up for grabs at Tokyo.
A record-breaking 55 nations comprising 240 surfers are competing in Miyazaki, from Afghanistan to Venezuela, with Brazil, Australia, the USA and France the headline acts, including a women's participation record of 103 surfers. Japan are the defending ISA WSG teams champions after shocking the world with an upset win over Australia in 2018, while Santiago Muniz (ARG) and Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) claimed individual golds at the same event.
Among these 55 Surfing National Teams, we find four new nations that compete in this event for the first time: American Samoa, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This showcases the development of surfing as a sport around the world, even in non-traditional surfing countries.
Surfing's 11-time world champion Kelly Slater is repping for the USA in Japan for the second time since his first appearance in the event in the edition of 1990, while reigning world champ Gabriel Medina will be proudly flying the Brazilian flag. Seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore is part of Team Australia with her WSL tour-mate and 2018 individual gold medallist Sally Fitzgibbons, while three-time world champ Carissa Moore will switch from representing her home state of Hawaii, as has long been the way in surfing, to the American flag.
Similarly, Michel Bourez will be surfing for France, not under his usual WSL flag of Tahiti, and that's just to mention some of the elite talent that are part of some of the strongest national surfing teams for this ISA World Surfing Games.
Kanoa Igarashi is leading the charge of the host team in Japan and looking to improve on his individual silver medal from last year in Tahara.
Red Bull athletes competing
The top 10 men and 8 women (by nation) at the end of the 2019 WSL Championship Tour will qualify for Tokyo, provided they've competed in the 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games presented by Vans. According to the IOC manual, these surfers are at the top of the qualification hierarchy and as long as they turn up to the 2019 and 2020 ISA World Surfing Games, their results are irrelevant. Things get a little complicated after this, but performing well at the ISA World Surfing Games is essential.
The first four eligible men and six eligible women at the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games will qualify, then the next four eligible men and women from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania. One male (Kanoa Igarashi) and one female (TBC) host nation slots have already been allocated to Japan. By winning the 2019 Pan Am Games surfing divisions, the Peruvian pair of Daniella Rosas and Lucca Mesinas have all but guaranteed their qualification, barring another Peruvian qualifying through the ISA World Surfing Games this year or next.
Japanese surfer and Championship Tour star Kanoa Igarashi has already been granted the host nation slot, while Sara Wakita, Shino Matsuda and Mahina Maeda look likely to battle it out for the Japanese ladies spot. The three surfers are anchoring a strong Japanese team in Miyazaki this week.
Miyazaki is the capital city of the Miyazaki Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu, about 900km south-west of Tokyo. While you can catch a train, or even drive between the islands, the 90 minute flight is a much simpler way of reaching one of Japan's most storied surfing destinations.
With almost 7,000 islands in the Japanese archipelago, it shouldn't be a surprise that surfing is massively popular, but the sport’s roots run deeper than you might imagine. A regular spot on the world tour since the 1990s, Miyazaki was home to the legendary Ocean Dome wavepool and has hosted scores of iconic sessions over the years.
In 1991, Tom Curren surfed a right hander in Uchiumi that's now called Curren's Right in honour of the display he put on in the huge typhoon surf. A few years later, Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll compiled the Tai Fy sessions, as they towed into typhoon swells while filming their Storm Surfers movies.
In 2007, Julian Wilson landed the first Sushi Roll at a local beach break and named the never-before-seen flip in tribute to the local fare. More recently, Kolohe Andino, John John Florence and Dane Reynolds led an all-star cast who shone in the seminal Miyazaki river mouth sessions that stole the show in Kai Neville's incredible 2012 release, Dear Suburbia.
The ISA World Surfing Games run from September 7–15 and the tentative schedule is as follows:
- Parade of Nations and Opening Ceremony 11:00am
- Likely start to Open Women
September 8 & 9
- Open Women
- Aloha Cup (TBC)
- Open Women
- Start to Open Men
- Finals Open Women
- Open Men competition continues
- Finals Open Men
- Closing Ceremony
Tune in to the live webcast here.
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