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Tokyo 2020 Surfing – Women’s Round-by-Round Wash-Up

The waves might not quite have been up to the level that we’re accustomed to seeing on the Championship Tour, but as it so often does, quality prevailed in both the men’s and women’s versions of the Tokyo 2020 surfing event. The women’s gold medallist, in what came as a surprise to literally nobody on the planet, was Hawaii’s Carissa Moore, though there would have been far fewer experts who picked the winners of the silver and the bronze. This is the round-by-round wash-up of the event.

Round 1

If you were a betting man or woman you would have made a killing on the first round, because every heat panned out virtually exactly as expected. Carissa Moore made short work of her three non-Championship Tour level opponents in the first heat, being joined in the top two by Portugal’s Terese Bonvalot. In the next, Sally Fitzgibbons – comfortably the most accomplished surfer in the heat – finished in top spot, while Brisa Hennessy – the second CT surfer in it – grabbed second to jump straight to the third round.

A similar tale unfolded in the third heat – Australia’s Steph Gilmore won as expected, while Brazil’s Silvana Lima tailed her in second. The trend continued in the fourth heat – Tatiana Weston-Webb and Johanne Defay were heavily favoured to take the top two spots and promptly did just that, before the thoroughly predictable round ended in thoroughly predictable fashion when Caroline Marks topped the final heat, being joined by Kiwi Ella Williams in the top two, who scraped over the line against Costa Rica’s Leilani McGonagle. 

Round 2

The second round consisted of exactly zero Championship Tour surfers, with the qualifiers from the ISA Games instead battling it out for a spot in the third round. The first heat was of the most interest to locals with both of Japan’s two female competitors lining up, and they kept the masses happy by finishing in first and third to continue on their merry way. Second place went the way of Bianca Buitendag, who would ultimately have plenty more involvement in the latter stages of the contest, while McGonagle and Ecuador’s Dominic Barona were sent packing.

In the second heat, Portugal’s Yolanda Hopkins was the only surfer to manage a double figure score, finishing in first with a two-wave total of 12.23. The other four battled it out in tricky conditions for the final two qualification spots, and in a tense finish it was France’s Pauline Ado and former world champ Sofia Mulánovich from Peru who beat out Israel’s Anat Leilor, and Peru’s Daniella Rosas. 

Round 3

Round 3 was the beginning of the head-to-head matchups, and in stark contrast to the first round, it started off with a shock result. South Africa’s Buitendag put together a terrific performance against a scratchy Steph Gilmore, beating the seven-time world champ 13.93-10.00. The upsets continued in the second heat, when Hopkins beat Defay, before normal transmission resumed for the next few heats.

Caroline Marks put in the best performance of the contest to date with a 15.33, demolishing one of the remaining two local hopes in Mahina Maeda in the process, before Moore just scraped over the line against Mulánovich. Lima and Fitzgibbons also saluted, as did Hennessy, though a significant – and very popular – upset took place in the second-last heat when Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki took out Weston-Webb.


With a spot in the final four up for grabs, both Buitendag and Hopkins would have been happy to match up against one another and avoid a CT surfer in the quarters, but alas one still had to be sent on their way. That surfer was Hopkins, with Buitendag continuing her winning streak despite putting together a relatively low total of 9.5 – Hopkins only managed 5.46.

The next two heats went as expected, with America’s two hopes and arguably the best two surfers in the world in Marks and Moore both winning comfortably, the latter particularly impressive in putting together a 14.26. Tsuzuki took to the waves against the far more highly touted Fitzgibbons in the last quarterfinal, and local knowledge paid dividends as she won 13.27-11.67.


Heading into the semis, all signs were pointing towards an all-American final. Both Marks and Moore were still standing, and were matching up against two non-CT surfers in Buitendag and Tsuzuki respectively. Throughout the Championship Tour season Marks has shown an ability to surf as well as anyone in the world at her best, but has equally put in a number of dismal performances to be knocked out early in numerous events – probably forgivable given she is still only 19 years old – and this inconsistency came back to bite her in the semis. After putting together three consecutive heat scores in excess of 12.5 in her first three expeditions into the cyclonic Japanese surf, she could only manage a meagre 3.67 total in the semi. No doubt she wasn’t helped by an interference call which saw her second score wiped, but nonetheless she wouldn’t have got near Buitendag’s 11.00.

Moore hardly set the world on fire in her own semi either, with her best individual wave scoring a 4.5 en route to an 8.33 total. Tsuzuki also top-scored with a 4.5, but her back-up was only a 2.93, meaning the world’s number one surfer advanced through to the gold medal match courtesy of a scratchy 8.33-7.43 win.

Bronze Medal Match

Tsuzuki headed into the bronze medal match as the unequivocally preferred winner for both locals and lovers of a good story, but against Marks she was equally unequivocally unfavoured to get the chocolates. Marks, however, once again demonstrated her propensity for lacklustre performances as disappointing as her best is impressive, and managed just 4.26 courtesy of individual waves of 2.33 and 1.93. Tsuzuki didn’t do a whole lot better, but a single wave of 5.00 was enough to carry her to a 6.8 total and a very popular – and unexpected – bronze medal from her home country’s Games.

Gold Medal Match

Like in the bronze medal match, there was a very clear favourite heading into the gold medal match, and once again it was the American. This time, however, the expected result prevailed. Moore consolidated her position on top of the world with a dominant performance, accumulating a total of 14.93 in tough conditions courtesy of a 7.6 and 7.33. Buitendag simply couldn’t go with her, finishing on 8.46, but few people – myself included – expected her to leave the Games with a silver medal so she will leave as one satisfied South African. 

Carissa Moore is the red-hot favourite to end the year as the world champion, and she was the deserved favourite heading into Tokyo 2020 as a result. And while the silver and bronze medal went to a couple of unexpected recipients, the gold ended up exactly where it was expected to.