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The Surf Forecast for the Tokyo Games 2020

At long last, Olympic surfing is finally here. There has been a year-long delay and rumours abound about the prospect of the whole Olympic competition being cancelled, but we’re now just days out and it appears that it’s all systems go. So will the waves cooperate?

There have been many concerns among the surfing community that the sport’s first ever expedition into the Olympics would be marred by poor conditions. And those concerns are certainly understandable – had surfing been inaugurated at the 2016 Games it would have been at a world-class break in Rio. In 2024 it will take place in Tahiti, four years later it’s in Los Angeles, while sunny Queensland has recently been announced as the venue for the 2032 Olympics. All of those options would almost certainly provide a far more viewer-friendly product, but that’s done little to dampen the excitement surrounding surfing at Tsurigasaki Beach.

So will the fears prove justified? Will the Pacific Ocean deliver, or leave us watching the world’s best slog it out in knee-high slop? Just a few days out from the beginning of the event window – which runs from the 25th of July till the 1st of August – a reliable forecast is starting to come together, so just what can we expect?

Overall Outlook

The images coming out of Japan in the lead-up to the Games of the world’s best smacking lips on waves that could barely claim to be one-foot were a little concerning, but fortunately we should be treated to better conditions than that throughout the course of the event window. Those conditions are courtesy of a tropical cyclone forming a little over 1,000 kilometres to the south of the event location, tracking in a northerly direction and bringing what should be reasonable sized waves during the contest.

It’s expected that the swell which that cyclone generates will begin to arrive on Sunday, filling in later that day or on Monday. Exactly how long this swell hangs around is still somewhat up in the air and can easily change depending on the subtleties of the cyclone, but at its peak it’s expected to bring head-high to overhead surf in the early parts of next week.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, we are likely to be greeted with some onshore winds alongside the swell, probably reducing the quality of the surf. However, there is some confidence that the winds will swing to a more favourable direction on Monday afternoon and into Tuesday. 

Beyond that the forecast becomes a little more sketchy, but there is still some promise that there could be solid swell into the latter stages of next week. Whether the wind cooperates is another question, and for the minute it appears as though the much sought-after combination of good swell and offshore winds is more likely to occur earlier in the week rather than later. 

Day-by-day

Sunday, 25th July

The first day of the event window will see small-to-medium waves in the 3-4’ range early, likely accompanied by moderate onshore winds. The swell is expected to increase throughout the day, though whether it will be sufficient to justify beginning the event is less certain, particularly given the wind forecast.

Monday, 26th July

By Monday, the swell from the aforementioned cyclone should have begun to create some decent sized waves in the head-high+ range. Winds look likely to be cross-shore early but are expected to swing offshore later in the day, meaning the afternoon could provide a nice window of surf to get the early stages of the competition underway. 

Tuesday, 27th July

The swell which filled in throughout Sunday and Monday should still be hanging around by Tuesday, with chest-to-head-high surf tipped to remain throughout the day. The wind again looks like being of the cross-shore variety early but will swing a little to a more favourable westerly direction as the day goes on. 

Wednesday, 28th July

By Wednesday, that initial swell will have begun to ease and we will likely see smaller waves than earlier in the week. The wind will again be cross-shore, meaning there will probably be surfable waves on this day, but of a little lower quality than what we will see on Monday and Tuesday.

Thursday, 29th July

The forecast for the latter stages of next week begin to get a little more uncertain, but at this point in time the forecast for Thursday suggests a lay day is likely. The swell forecast is similar to that of Wednesday, while early cross-shore winds are expected to make way for onshores as the day goes on.

Friday, 30th July

More swell is expected to fill in on Friday, though it may not be of the quality we will see earlier in the week. The short period swell will see peaky, albeit decent-sized waves, but onshores and inclement weather will come with them.

Saturday, 31st July

The inclement weather is expected to ease by the weekend, but while the swell will remain so too will the onshore westerly winds. The forecast could change given we are still over a week out from the latter stages of the event window, but the early signs are that next weekend if needed, will offer up waves, even if they aren’t the highest quality.

Sunday, 1st August

Similar to Saturday, the early forecast for the final day of the event window is for some swell, but onshore winds. It’s very possible the event will be finished by this stage regardless, but if needed there may be something to splash around in.

Overall, it looks likely that the coming week or so will bring at least a few days of surf which will surpass the worst-case scenario which was playing out in the minds of many fans, officials and competitors. The initial days of the waiting period look especially promising, in particular Monday and Tuesday next week, so expect the organisers to be eyeing off these days as opportunities to get a lot of surfing done in what should be clean and potentially overhead conditions.

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