How surfing is scored

Surfing: judging tricks is a subjective assessment | Photo: Glaser/Quiksilver

How do you know who the best surfer is in the water? How do you rate a surfer's performance in the waves? Who decides who wins a surfing heat?

Judging surfing is never a scientific and objective formula; it can't be compared with football/soccer, tennis, rugby, baseball, volleyball, hockey, running, and basketball.

In all of these individual and team sports, the score is a quantitative measure that determines success.

In surfing, however, victory and defeat are decided by a panel of judges. Professional surfing contests put athletes in man-on-man, three-man, or four-man heats.

The winner of the heat (or the two best surfers in each heat) advances through to the next round in a ladder tournament format.

You don't need to read an extensive rulebook to quickly understand how surfers get scores for their tricks and maneuvers in the waves.

So, what should a surfer do to win his heat?

The Rules

According to the World Surf League (WSL), the organization behind professional surf contests, the game plays out according to the following rules:

  1. A panel of five judges dissects the surfers' performances;
  2. Heat times may vary between 20 and 35 minutes;
  3. A wave is scored on a scale of one to ten, with two decimal places;
  4. Surfers lock in their two highest-scoring waves;
  5. For each ride, the highest and lowest scores (of the five judges) are discounted, and the surfer is awarded the average of the remaining three scores;
  6. There are no limits to the number of waves that can be ridden;
  7. A perfect heat is when a surfer gets a total score of 20 points;

Judging surfers: always a subjective criteria | Photo: Kirstin/WSL

The Criteria

Judging surfing is always a subjective verdict.

Nevertheless, professional judges make their assessments and throw scores for waves ridden by surfers based on five major criteria.

Here's the recipe for winning a heat:

  1. Commitment and degree of difficulty;
  2. Innovative and progressive maneuvers;
  3. Combination of major maneuvers;
  4. Variety of maneuvers;
  5. Speed, power, and flow;

The Judging Scale

The surf judging scale can be translated into qualitative terms:

  • From 0.00 to 1.90 > Poor Wave Ride;
  • From 2.00 to 3.90 > Fair Wave Ride;
  • From 4.00 to 5.90 > Average Wave Ride;
  • From 6.00 to 7.90 > Good Wave Ride;
  • From 8.00 to 10.00 > Excellent Wave Ride;

Surf judges don't talk to each other and don't change scores. If a surfer needs to know the scores, he should raise his/her hand.