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Rules of the Game: Surfing

Surfing is one of the new competitions at the Olympics and requires a little help from Mother Nature.

Surfing is one of five sports being introduced at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Unlike most other Olympic events, surfing requires a hand from Mother Nature. The competition will be held on the ocean off Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, about a one-hour drive east of Tokyo.

Surfers will be at the mercy of the waves, the wind, and the tides. No two waves are identical, so part of the strategy involves a surfer trying to determine if a good wave is coming. Because of this uncertainty with the weather and the waves, there will be a nine-day window to complete the competition. But if conditions are good, then the competition can be done in just four days.

Twenty men and 20 women will compete in separate competitions. Up to two surfers per gender can qualify from one country.

In the first round, four surfers compete per heat, with the top two advancing to round three. They will try to ride as many waves as possible to increase their score with the judges. Heats can last up to 35 minutes, depending on conditions.

In the second round, the 10 surfers who did not advance will be given one more chance to move on to the final round. Five surfers compete per heat with the top three in each advancing to round three.

From round three through to the finals, it’s a one-on-one elimination tournament. The winner of each heat advances and the loser is out until the semifinals. The winners of the semifinals will compete for the gold while the losers will battle for bronze.

Competitors must be respectful of one another's space. Each wave can only have one rider and a penalty can be called if one surfer interferes with another. But there's also some gamesmanship. A competitor may pretend there is a wave they are not interested in, but then suddenly starts riding it. Or there's the reverse strategy of pretending to go after a wave then backing off.

To the casual fan, following the scoring of surfing can prove difficult. Judges are looking at speed, power, the maneuvers a surfer attempts and how the surfer flows with the wave. Of the five judges, the highest and lowest scores are discarded. The surfer’s best two wave scores are counted toward their total in each heat.

There are two types of surfboard -- the longboard and the shortboard. Only the shortboard will be contested at the 2020 Games. The shortboard is about 5 feet, 10 inches long and has a pointed tip.