Surfing Competitions: How Do They Actually Work? + Guide

Flo Farmer
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Surfing Competitions: How Do They Work?

Many surf competitions begin with heats. Depending on the number of competitors, the competitions begin with small or large heats. For smaller events, this is not really a problem, but once the event gets too large, then a lottery system is sometimes used. In this surf competition guide, we're going to talk about both systems and describe how they work.

In smaller heats, the first competitor is placed in a heat based on their ranking. The rankings typically aren't released until the day of the heat. The following surfers are then placed in heats based on whichever heat has its place available.

For example, if 1st place is a 4 in the rankings, and the next available heat is a 3-6, the 1st place contestant is placed in heat 3. The next heat is then filled by putting the lower ranked contestants in that heat until all heats are filled.

In a large heat, the competitors are placed into each heat according to their seeding. For example, 2nd place is placed in heat 2. And then if 3rd place is also in heat 2, the next available heat is used.

Both systems, though differing slightly, are used to keep the number of surfers in the same heat fairly close. If you have many waves with only a few surfers and many waves with large numbers of surfers, it is a sure way to get an extremely uneven heat at the end of the day.

Rules and Regulations

For newcomers who are interested in watching surfing competitions and also participate in this fun activity, it’s important to learn the key rules that will be applied during each stage of the competition.

With a variety of surfing competitions in the world, there are different set of rules and regulations that will be applied during each stage. Some competitions might require the judges to grade the performance of the participants while others might require the participant to impress the judges in a number of ways. There is this one competition that requires the participant to ride a wave while performing a specialty move.

Some rules and regulations might only focus on a certain way of riding the waves as well. For some competitions, there will be a musical accompaniment or all participants will have to ride the waves perfectly without falling or coming up short. The participant will also need to show beauty and flair as he or she rides the waves. There is also a time set by the organizers for the participant to finish surfing one wave. The rules and regulations will also determine how many times the participant must succeed in riding a wave. In some competitions, it is enough if the participant gets the right wave only once while in others the participant must do it a number of times to qualify.

Judging and Points

When judging a surf competition, a panel of judges will arbitrarily select a handful of competitors to move into the next round. These scores are based on each competitor’s rides in the heats. If the judges score the heat equal to a draw, neither competitor will advance. However, the surfers that progress through the heats move onto the next stage, sometimes eliminating competitors en route. This can last for a few more rounds, until only one competitor remains from each heat.

The final two competitors take to the water for one last ride. They are judged by the judges the same way as heat or round one, with points awarded for each trick. These points are tallied in three categories: the cleanliness of the move, the difficulty of the move, and the number of maneuvers landed. The competitor who scores the most points after the last ride takes home the title.

That is the general system, but the judging is also divided into two parts: judging by a panel of judges, and judging via the internet. Each has its own purpose.


Ranking system is probably best known for its use in the NCAA college basketball tournament. More specifically, its use in the basketball rankings. The NCAA sets out a standard eligibility period for a team, the games they must play within that eligibility period and their opponents. The most common period is eight games over a period of six weeks. Since an athlete can only participate on one team during the eligibility period, over a one year period, there is no way a player can play on multiple teams for one year. At the end of the eligibility period, the teams are ranked and the top teams are given an opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament. The Eligibility and Rankings systems that we will examine next month will seem similar. The main difference is instead of teams, we will be looking at individuals. Once our rankings are established, we will examine a competition system that is a little different.

The NCAA. This system uses a(probably best known for its use in the. The. The most common period is eight games over a period of six weeks. Since an athlete can only participate on one team during the eligibility period, over a one year period, there is no way a player can play on multiple teams for one year. At the end of the eligibility period, the teams are ranked and the top teams are given an opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament. The Eligibility and Rankings systems that we will examine next month will seem similar.


When you first start to surf competitions, you should know that you must surf according to the rules first, before anything else. In fact, these competitions aim at some rules and regulations in which you must follow to surf professionally.

Understand the Priority

Priory: It can be concluded that there are various priority with the waves during the competitions.

The priority with the waves are these:

{1}. The surfers to be on the supply team list for each round/ heat they are surfing.
{2}. The surfers that are allowed to surf each heat taking into consideration the level of difficulty at the venue.
{3}. Take into consideration the following criteria to give the priority with the waves:

a) Most recently called in for each heat

B) Most important that qualification heat takes place.

C) Long-term competitor that has not competed in the qualification heats.

D) Most important: How the waves are at the time.

It should be noted that a surfer wave priority is dependent on the reported wave measurements and not the waves that the surfers are riding.


Surfing is a contact sport, in which it is important to see other surfers and to avoid interfering with their ride. Interference occurs when a surfer touches a fellow surfer or his surfboard. Touching the water with the hand or surfboard will also constitute interference. The penalty for interference includes being disqualified, receiving a reduction of points, or receiving no points at all. Judges are stationed throughout the surf zone and are able to observe all surfers and make official decisions as to whether or not interference occurs.

Heat Restart

In case the surf conditions change unexpectedly, the event supervisor will usually make the decision to move forward with the current heat or to restart it.

If it is decided to restart the heat, a weight is thrown in the water to indicate that the competition will be resumed at a later time. The surfers will usually have to swim to the nearest beach or a boat will take them back to the beach.

Once the competitors return to the beach, they will have to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the next heat. Since the surfers will need time to rest and warm-up, there will be a small break during which time the beach will be cleaned. The length of the break depends on the competition rules and can even vary from heat to heat.

Once the surfers are ready, they will proceed to the waiting area. In here, they can warm-up or even acclimatize depending on the location. Most of the time, the waiting area is a beach or the waiting rocks. Once the surf is deemed suitable, the competitors will head to the water to start the next heat.

Anti-Doping Rule

Numerous professional athletes, including several star surfer, have been suspected of or have admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs. The most common and effective PEDs are anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. Both increase muscle mass, decrease body fat, increase lean tissue and bone density, and decrease liver & kidney fat.

One of the big risks of using PEDs is that they expose the athlete to possibly damaging side effects, plus the possibility of failing a drug test.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs is not allowed in sports, because their use specifically goes on to break the rules associated with that activity.

The International Anti-Doping Code states that using any and all forms of PEDs is considered to be doping, and especially in sports,.

this would mean the participant is automatically banned from all sports.

Some sports, such as the Olympics, have mandatory drug testing and it is common for sports such as tennis and professional boxing to conduct random drug testing on a going forward basis, whereas in other sports, like surfing, it is purely at the discretion of the league.

Events and Competitions

All surfers from beginners to pros will tell you the same thing. It is a sport that requires as much mental determination and focus as the physical aspects of surfing.

While the professional side of things pretty much everyone knows about, there are competitions/events that you may not know even exist. They may be less-heralded but just as much fun.

Some of these events and competitions include the Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational, the Vans US Open of Surfing, and The Eddie Aikau. All of this is put together by the World Surf League (WSL). All of them can be referred to as surf competitions.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common ones for you.

Championship Tours

The World Surf League (WSL) currently has six seasons per year, and each season consists of a series of surfing competitions called “tours.” Each tour has a few stops on it where surfers compete in one or more of the following divisions:

  • Mens Longboard
  • Mens Shortboard
  • Mens Big Wave
  • Womens Longboard
  • Womens Shortboard

Each time an athlete wins a competition during a tour, they’re awarded points for their surf performance. At the end of the season, the top ranked athletes in these divisions will be ranked according to the number of points they’ve accumulated. As the top ranked athletes earn cash prizes for each tier they place in.

Here’s how the process works:

{1}. Athletes qualify for World Tour events by taking top spots in qualifying competitions called reef trips.
{2}. Athletes rank within a world tour season by accumulating points from contest placings at the series of events.
{3}. The highest-ranked athletes on tour make it to the tour finals that take place at the end of the season.
{4}. An athlete can be dethroned if another athlete comes out on top in a tour final.

Challenger Series

In a nutshell, the ASP World Tour is the series where professional surfers compete for points in up to 38 competitions, which are spread out over a regular season that runs for 10 months (May-April).

The winner of the 2015 ASP World Tour was Australian surfer Mick Fanning. He went on to be crowned champion after winning the World Tour Finals event in Hawaii in December.

The previous year's champion is always placed at the top of the ASP World Tour rankings. The second place surfer is then placed ten points behind the champion, followed by the third place surfer being placed 20 points behind and so on.

The title of the best surfer is awarded to the surfer with the highest amount of points at the end of the season.

Although it's usually slightly more meaningful to follow the ASP World Tour, the ASP WQS is the qualification path to the other surfers that are looking to get on the World Tour.

The winner of the WQS is then known as the ASP WQS Champion; the runner up is then awarded the WQS 2nd place; then the third place is awarded the WQS 3rd place and so on.

Qualifying Series

There is one National Series down the east coast of Australia. There is a World Qualifying Series to decide who gets to represent their country at the real competitions.

The first step for most surfers is to move into competition at their local, regional and state competitions. Once they have contested a few of these competitions they can go through the Qualifying Series (QS).

There are six different QS circuits. The main one is the QS10, which is made up of ten events around the world. The winner of each of the events in this circuit will go on to compete in a ten-day contest in Hawaii.

This contest is known as the POTY, or Pipe of the Year. It is held at the Pipeline. This event is televised and is a massive event for fans, surfers, and the media.

The fastest way to get started in professional competitions is to try out the QS10. This is most easily done by going through the Australian qualifying rounds.

The winner of this surfs the QS10 in perpetuity, unless they are injured or they retire.

Big Wave

Big wave surfing is a form of surfing that takes place on the nearshore and open ocean during extreme weather conditions. Often described as the most dangerous form of surfing, big wave events are held in extreme locations where the waves are considered a big risk to life and limb. As such, competitive big wave surfing is considered a fringe competitive sport, and it is poorly sanctioned compared to mainstream competitive sports. While there is a governing body, the Association of Surfing Professionals, sanctioning the World Cup level events, there are few events that are hosted. Hence, the sport remains a fringe sport mostly present in surfing magazines for enthusiasts.

While there is no specific definition of what constitutes “big waves,” experts in the field are generally in agreement that the waves have to be between 30 and 60 feet to be considered “big,” with anything over 60 feet considered “gigantic” waves. While it is written that the height of the wave is the most important factor when defining a big wave, the length of the wave is also critical. The wave needs to be long enough to allow a long ride.

The location of the big wave contest is determined primarily by the presence of roiling, dangerous waves. Thus, the greatest amount of big wave surfing in the world is located along the Western Coast of the United States.

Longboard Tour

You've arrived on the Costa Rican shores in San Jose and you're ready to check out the spots and learn the way of surfing. I didn't get to what I call “surf camp,” in the best of all possible ways: I married a native of the country, and being able to confidently wander around with other natives and speak the language is a huge advantage I didn’t enjoy during my first few trips to the country.

With a new life in tow, it took me a few weeks to get settled into the swing of things, and a few weeks after that to experience the differences between surfing in Costa Rica and surfing back home.

My time in the country as an employee with Kona and the surf lessons and longboard tours that I’ve experienced over the years have been the perfect combination to familiarize myself with the local ins and outs of the Costa Rican surf scene.

On a separated out trip, you want to come to Costa Rica specifically to learn to surf and practice on your own. This makes planning very important to ensure that the trip is a success. You want to work with an excellent company that has great instructors and makes sure that the experience is worthwhile and safe. Going with the wrong company could ruin your trip completely.

Junior Tour

The junior tour, an integral part of the ASP program, was introduced in 1985 to provide a platform for surfing’s young stars to compete at an international level. It is one of the most important parts of young individuals’ development as it allows them to gain valuable experience and confidence at a time where most are still learning how to ride a surfboard.

There are two main junior circuits. Both circuits have events located all around the world to allow young surfers to develop a global “feel” for competing.

The first of these is the ASP World Junior Qualifying Series. Run between October and April each year, the event travels to locations all over the world and attracts thousands of surfers and spectators each year to the beautiful waves of some of the most important breaks in the world.

While the competitors travel to all corners of the globe, there are also significant numbers who are based almost entirely in the Western America and Australia. This allows the top surfers to compete on a weekly basis throughout the season. The season draws to a close with the Super Finals, one of the most anticipated highlights of the junior tour.

Specialty Events

Vans Triple Crown

Like any other sport, surfing has its own league. Actually, there are two league to be exact. The World Surf League is the league of professionals that has 18 professional surfers under contract. Their goal is to help pushing the sport of surfing to the mainstream.

The second league is the Webber World Longboard Tour. It is for the intermediate to professional surfers who have the basics of wave riding down, but want to improve their skills and make a name for themselves. This is where you are more likely to find the shapers of the future.


FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What does it mean to be sponsored in surfing?

What is the best body weight to weight ratio for a surfer?

Can a beginner swimmer compete?

Where are the best surfing competitions held?

Is it safe to surf if you have a lot of ear and sinus issues?

These are just some of the questions new swimmers might have about surfing. Read on for the answers.

Hopefully, the information in this section will help you become a better and more informed participant in any of the competitions that interest you.

Q: Who are leading the boards for Championship Tours?

Q: How are waves scored?

Many people think there is a formula the judges use to score waves.

Scoring doesn’t work with statistics or numbers but much more with knowledge and art.

The fact comes from a deep knowledge of waves and their behaviors. Because of this fact, there’s not a hard set of scoring as there are guidelines to follow and then the judge sits in his chair and looks at the waves and rate one by one.

The judges know what is good for surfing and how to put this judging criteria into a scale. This is why you always can see the same judge scoring a wave the exact same way as another show judging did.

The basic way we can judge the waves is on their power, takeoff, barrel, speed, tube, air and flow.

In the table below you can check the most important elements that create a single wave score.

Q: Are scoring different between CT and QS events?

The number of judges is the same: three per heat for both men and women.

The scoring itself is the same. The only difference is that CT competitions are made up of two rounds. The first round is heat of five minutes, then judges compile the scores. The second round is done the same as in the QS circuits, 10 minutes in total.

Another important thing is the calls of the judges during the heat. On the CT events, every judge calls out for a score. If they think a wave is 'too good', they will call it out. Let's say two judges call out 'too good', then the heat judge will stop the heat and give the extra point to the surfer. That might be different in the QS events depending on the CT event course.

But in general, the scoring is the same for everybody. An A-grade score in a CT event is worth the same as an A-grade score in a QS event.

Q: What events does the WSL coordinate?

The following are some of the most popular annual events:

  • The Quiksilver and Roxy Pro, the world's best surfers hit the waves at Tavarua, Fiji
  • The Rip Curl Pro, an epic championship that runs across five exotic locations in Australia, South Africa, Portugal, France and Hawaii
  • The Vans World Cup of Surfing, a contest for amateur surfers that runs across Oahu, North Shore, Nicaragua and California
  • The Rip Curl Women's Pro, the biggest event for women's surfing, this tour will run across 5 locations in the world, holding championships in France, New Zealand, Portugal, Brazil and Australia.
  • The ASP World Junior Championship
  • The ASP Women's Junior Championship
  • The ASP World Longboard Championship
  • The ASP World Big Wave Championship
  • The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing
  • The Reef Hawaiian Pro and the Billabong Pipe Masters in Hawaii
  • The Quicksilver Pro and the Roxy Pro France in France and Brazil
  • The Hang Loose Pro and the Air Tahiti Nui Pro in Brazil, Ecuador and Tavarua, Fiji.
  • The Body Glove Tahiti Pro and the Billabong Rio Pro in Brazil
  • Billy Kemper and the Hawaiian Pro in Hawaii
  • The Frendly Pro in Indonesia