Journey to Tokyo: Meet the man watching the waves during 2021 Olympics

Japan 2020

(WFLA) — For the first time, surfing is an Olympic sport next summer. Elite competitors from all over the world will come together to ride the waves in Tokyo.

There will also be people studying the swell behind the scenes including the man who will be the first-ever lead forecaster for Olympic surfing.

“I definitely didn’t get into this thinking I was going to be the first forecaster for the Olympics for surfing, which is obviously a huge honor and a really prestigious competition, and we’re really excited about it,” said Kurt Korte.

Korte is the Lead Forecaster for Surfline and lives along the coast of North Carolina.

He’s been named the official “wave watcher” for surfing at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.

“It really started when I was in elementary school. I lived closer to the beach than all of my friends. My job was pretty much, before the bus came, to run over and look at the surf. I was popular because of it. I’d run over and tell everybody ‘Hey there’s waves. You should go after school’ it kind of started there,'” said Korte.

Kurt has been studying the conditions in Tokyo for years. In 2014, he and his crew at Surfline helped gather important data that helped score surfing a slot in the olympic lineup.

“We actually did some studies for the international surfing association to find out the feasibility of actually running a contest during the Olympic window in Japan,” he said.

To prepare for the 2020 Olympics, Korte visited Tokyo in 2019 for a test event.

“You pretty much go through all the logistics of what they’re going to do during the Olympics. We had surfers, we had a controlled competition, we had to deal with the IOC in the various stakeholders to work through some of the logistical issues that may come up,” Korte said.

From all of his research and experience, Korte said Japan’s coastline is actually similar to the surf back home in North Carolina. “You have a warm water current that runs right offshore, here it’s the golfstream. That time of year that we’re looking at, the Olympic window, which is late July into early August, you are looking at typhoon swells which is very similar to what we depend on here for our surf.”

“When you look at wave production it’s pretty much wind blowing over the ocean. If you have wind blowing over the ocean, then you can generate waves. The longer that wind blows, and the stronger it blows, and the greater distance that it blows, the bigger the surf you get. So when you break down the basics levels it’s the same pretty much everywhere, but every location pretty much has its own idiosyncrasies,” Korte said.

With the games postponed until 2021, Korte said he’s using the extra time to watch Surfline’s cameras on Shidashita Beach and study the waves.

“It’s going to be great, but gosh I got my fingers crossed we’re going to get good waves,” Korte said.

The summer Olympics in Tokyo are still eight months away but Korte and his team have also been helping with the 2024 games in Paris. Tahiti has been named the official surfing venue for those games.

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