Kelly Slater, Bethany Hamilton
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Kelly Slater, Bethany Hamilton on new movies, Olympic surfing hopes

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NEW YORK — On consecutive days, the most well-known surfers in the U.S. appeared at the Tribeca Film Festival to promote documentaries of a sport that makes its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

Whether either Kelly Slater or Bethany Hamilton plans to compete at the Games is in question.

“I’m 50-50,” the 46-year-old Slater said Saturday at the premiere of “Momentum Generation,” a film about a band of teen surfers whose bonds brought the sport to new heights in the 1990s. “If I make the team, I’ll compete.”

That’s the hard part. The Olympic qualifying procedures, published last month, limit the U.S. to no more than three surfers per gender in the Olympic fields of 20 men and 20 women.

The top two Americans per gender from the 2019 World Surf League standings would be guaranteed spots. If the world’s dominant surf nations take up the top 34 spots in either 2019 standings, the third-ranked U.S. surfer could get in if the U.S. wins the 2020 World Surfing Games.

Slater was hopeful for more athletes from the world’s top surfing nations. Australia, Brazil, and the U.S. dominate the World Surf League standings.

“They’re going to have to change that a little bit, I think,” Slater said of the quota maximum (It’s too late to change this for 2020, and surfing is not guaranteed in the Olympics for 2024 and beyond.). “It’s hard to look past Brazil, Australia and America for talent in surfing.”

Slater, an 11-time world champion, dropped to the third-ranked American in 2016 and missed four of 11 events last season after breaking his foot. His best finish in the other seven events was a fifth. He hopes to return to competition in July, about a year since suffering the injury that required two surgeries.

The U.S. boasts the two-time reigning world champion — 25-year-old John John Florence of Hawaii — but no other men from last season’s top six or this season’s (early) top seven.

Slater said he hopes that Olympic surfing organizers would adopt his company’s wave-pool technology for the Games rather than holding it on the Pacific Coast. It was previously announced by the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 that the Olympic competition will be held at Tsurigasaki Beach rather than a wave pool.

“It’s almost a test sport for the first year when you get into the Olympics,” Slater said. “I think it will obviously broaden the audience that watches us. There’s a lot of potential things that can happen with that.”

Slater was one of several surfing icons featured in “Momentum Generation,” along with Rob MachadoShane Dorian and others.

“[It’s about] the convergence of all our friendships coming together,” said Slater, before he watched the film for the first time at the premiere. “Everyone’s got these kinds of stories in their lives that are interesting. Somebody found ours interesting enough to cover it, dig in and spend a lot of time on it.”

The night before, Hamilton walked the red carpet for her biopic, “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable.” The Hawaiian’s left arm was bitten off in a 2003 shark attack when she was a promising 13-year-old surfer. She came back and continued winning contests.

“We started making a smaller, action sports compilation of my surfing,” five years ago, Hamilton said. “It grew into a more story/documentary.”

Hamilton, now 28 and a mother of two, last competed in the top-level World Surf League last May before she became pregnant with her second child, son Wesley, who was born six weeks ago.

She, too, was undecided about ramping up her schedule next year for an Olympic bid.

“I don’t know if I could qualify, but I’m not really competing enough to be the top-two pick of the USA team,” she said, adding that the type of wave at the Olympics plays a role in her interest.

Hamilton, between those two pregnancies, competed four times total on tour in the last four seasons with a best finish of third. Last season, four U.S. women were in the top eight of the World Surf League standings. Hamilton was tied for 20th with one start in 11 events.

Hamilton said she hopes to compete at least twice later this year, including at a Slater wave-pool event.

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MORE: World’s top surfer: World title bigger than Olympics

World’s top surfer: World title bigger than Olympics

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Australian Tyler Wright is a two-time reigning World Surf League champion, which makes her an early favorite for the first Olympic surfing title at Tokyo 2020.

While Wright said surfing’s Olympic inclusion is “incredible,” her focus remains on those season-long world titles, according to the Australian.

“I wouldn’t say I get paid to win gold medals,” she said, according to the report. “I more get paid to win world titles. That’s where it comes into more perspective for me.

“My clear job is to win world titles. It takes a whole, full year to win one. It takes so many conversations. It takes so much preparation for every single individual event. So much work goes into a world title year that is really hard to question it. That’s why I think it will always be known as the biggest thing in surfing. whether the rest of the world recognizes that, I don’t think the people who surf will really care. That’s kind of the way I view it. I’m not denying that winning the gold medal wouldn’t be really freaking cool, but it’s a long way off, and I’ve got other things to focus on now.”

Like, potentially, making the Australian Olympic team.

The maximum number of Olympic surfers per country hasn’t been announced. The fields are 20 men and 20 women and will be determined in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

It could make things tricky for Australia, land of the top three women in last year’s World Surf League standings, plus another four in the top 18.

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MORE: Kelly Slater on surfing’s addition to Olympics

Tokyo 2020 Olympic venues approved for new sports

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Tokyo 2020 venues for the new Olympic sports of baseball, softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved by the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday.

That brings the total number of Tokyo 2020 venues to 39, with the potential for more.

The venues for new sports:

Baseball/softball — Yokohama Stadium (20 miles south of Tokyo)
Karate — Nippon Budokan
Skateboarding and Sport Climbing — Aomi Urban Sports Venue
Surfing — Tsurigasaki Beach

All of the new sports do not currently have a spot on the Olympic program beyond 2020 (baseball and softball were previously on the Olympic program before being taken off after Beijing 2008).

Agenda 2020 reforms allowed Olympic host cities to propose the addition of sports for their Games only, which is what Tokyo 2020 did to get them on the program.

The Tokyo Olympic venues are split between two zones — the Heritage Zone and the Tokyo Bay Zone — that are separated by the Olympic Village.

Tokyo 2020 and FIFA are still discussing the finalization of soccer venues. There are currently six, including two in Tokyo and one as far away as Sapporo (650 miles north).

Tokyo 2020 and the World Baseball Softball Confederation are still discussing the potential of adding a second baseball-softball venue in Fukushima prefecture, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami. Fukushima is about 150 miles north of Tokyo.

The Tokyo Dome, home of the Yomiuri Giants and several MLB and World Baseball Classic games, is not a 2020 Olympic venue.

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