How surfing is scored

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

How do you know who's the best surfer 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, 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?

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 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 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.

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