By Jack Tarrant
SHIDASHITA BEACH, Japan (Reuters) – Surfing’s unpredictability is part of its charm and Tokyo 2020 organizers got a taste this week of what might face them next year when the sport makes its Olympics debut.
Heavy fog and small waves on Thursday meant the start of the four-day surfing test event at Shidashita Beach, some 60 kilometers north-west of Tokyo, was delayed for an hour.
Organizers also had to contend with the more unexpected challenge of a sea turtle laying her eggs overnight, just 10 meters from the judges’ viewing area.
Once the fog had lifted and the first heats began, there were periods of heavy rain mixed with bright sunshine, a further indicator of the unpredictable conditions surfers are used to but present a challenge to one of the Olympics’ newest sports.
“We depend on mother nature, we depend on the natural conditions as they present themselves,” International Surfing Association Executive Director Robert Fasulo told reporters on the beach during a rare window of sunshine.
“We are very confident and part of the reason why we are here in this period is to see how the conditions are running during the format.
“I think that, from what we have seen, and we are on schedule, that the conditions are absolutely adequate.”
Organizers expected waves to average between 1-1.5 meters during the test event and that this would be acceptable, if not perfect, if replicated next year, Fasulo said.
“This is absolutely contestable conditions if you look and see there are some great waves being ridden,” he added.
“Yesterday was beautiful, although of course it wasn’t a competition day (and this) has shown to us that this is absolutely a good location for a high class, a world class, surfing competition.”
Shidashita Beach was chosen by organizers as it has some of the most consistent waves in Japan and should allow for the four days of Olympic competition to be completed in its eight-day window of July 26-Aug. 2 next year.
Surfers competing in the event agreed the conditions were probably the best in the country, even if the waves later in the morning were disappointing.
“I often come here to practice and there are good waves,” said Shino Matsuda, who won the Japan Open on Shidashita Beach in 2018. “But (the) waves were smaller than usual today.”
The smaller waves mean surfers can expect a tight, technical contest.
“The waves were a bit small and there were tides too, so waves were breaking so fast that it was difficult to surf,” added Hiroto Ohhara, who added that the Chiba coastline was the best surfing Japan has to offer.
Qualification for surfing at the 2020 Olympics has already started, with 20 places available for both men and women.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)