What we learned from seeing the best surfers in the world compete in Miyazaki, Japan
The 2019 ISA World Surfing Games delivered quality surfing, high drama and an appetising taster for how surfing will look at Tokyo 2020.
240 of the world’s best surfers from 55 nations competed in what organisers are calling a successful competition.
Tokyo 2020 is delighted with the success of the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki this week. The event, held in this very popular surf destination in Japan, offered a glimpse of how spectacular Olympic Surfing will be next year.'' - Tokyo 2020 Sports Director Koji Murofushi speaking to the ISA
The competition wrapped up on Sunday (16 September) with Italo Ferreira stealing the show with a perfect 10-point-ride to take the men's title.
He also led Brazil to their first team gold in 19 years, having last been crowned World Surfing Games champions in 2000.
Compatriot Gabriel Medina came third in the men's competition with another Brazilian, Silvana Lima, second in the women's.
USA were a close second in the team event with Kolohe Andino runner-up in the men's individual competition and Carissa Moore fourth in the women's.
Ferreira's exploits were all the more remarkable given that he almost missed his first heat in Miyazaki after his passport and other possessions were stolen in the United States.
Conditions surprised many but, with two typhoons passing by Miyazaki during the competition period (7-15 September), the swell and wind worked to the surfers favour with mostly sunshine and clean conditions.
The event had eyes on it for many reasons, partly because it was serving as something of a test for surfing's Olympic debut.
Eight coveted Olympic Games spots were claimed at the World Surfing Games.
In the men's competition, Portugal's Frederico Morais, Morocco’s Ramzi Boukhiam, Japan's Shun Murakami and New Zealand’s Billy Stairmand earned provisional continental qualification as the last standing surfers from Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania respectively.
Murakami beat Rio Waida in Repechage Round 10 to claim the Asian berth with the Indonesian putting aside his disappointment to sportingly embrace his rival.
"I was not thinking about the Olympic qualification, just surfing in the moment and fighting in that heat." Shun Murakami speaking to the ISA
The 22-year-old went on to reach the final where he finished in fourth place.
Stairmand earned New Zealand's second spot at Tokyo 2020 after fellow Kiwi Ella Williams had finished as the best female surfer from Oceania.
Japan's Shino Matsuda, Israel's Anat Lelior and South Africa's bronze medallist Bianca Buitendag also qualified from the women's event.
The quality of the surfing and the attention on the competition was greatly enhanced by the presence of the World Surf League Championship Tour surfers.
WSL stars rarely attend the annual World Surfing Games, but participation at this year's edition was obligatory for athletes who want to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater made his first appearance at a World Surfing Games and enjoyed meeting new rivals.
He told Olympic Channel, ''It’s a real different experience and to see everyone come together because of surfing.
"When you see countries that you hear about politically that don’t get along, and then you see them sitting next to one another, and shaking hands, and taking picture and laughing, it’s a really cool thing.'' - Kelly Slater
WSL surfers, past and present, dominated the competition with Murakami the only finalist yet to appear on the Championship Tour.
Before the competition started, the surfers were involved in a Parade of Nations which many saw as reminiscent of an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.
ISA President Fernando Aguerre was found to be sporting a wide smile for much of the nine-day competition, and repeatedly praised the surfers for being so committed to the event, their countries and the Olympic Games.
He said, "For the first time, every nation brought their surfing dream teams and for the first time an ISA World Surfing Games is a qualifier for the Olympic Games.
"Thank you to all the competitors, including the Championship Tour surfers, for taking time to compete and enjoy the ISA Aloha spirit at our World Surfing Games."
The location of the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games has yet to be decided, but Japan, France, Spain and Australia are said to be front runners.
The first four eligible men and the first six eligible women from this event will also earn Tokyo 2020 spots.
Surfers must make themselves available for the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games in order to be eligible for the Olympics.
Only 20 women men and 20 men will compete at Tokyo, with a maximum of two athletes per gender per country permitted.
For many other top competitors, their best chance of qualifying will be through the WSL's World Championship Tour where the results of the 2019 tour will determine spots for the top eight women and 10 men.
The 2019 Pan American Games awards two Olympic slots and hosts Japan also get one automatic place in each of the men's and women's competitions.
Now if you're wondering about Kelly Slater, who finished fifth at this year's event, he is still in the running for an Olympic place.
With four events on the Championship Tour remaining, the 47-year-old is the fourth-ranked American.
He needs to be the first or second to make the start for surfing's Olympic debut.