How to plan and organize a surf competition

January 11, 2022 | Surfing
Surf competition: learn how to plan and organize a surfing contest | Photo: WSL

Surf competitions are rather complex sports events that involve several variables and indirect aspects associated with running a contest.

Unlike in football/soccer and basketball, where teams compete for goals and points, surfing is an individual sport that requires judges to determine winners.

Also, it depends on Nature's will to get the event underway.

So, curiously, it can be harder to plan and organize a surf competition compared to a soccer match where you only need two teams, a playable pitch, two goalposts, and a referee.

Difficult but not impossible.

Here's how to plan, organize and run a simple surf contest based on simple standard/official guidelines.

Ideally, start working on the following roadmap six-to-three months before the date chosen for kicking off the comp.

Some of the following steps could be addressed simultaneously:

1. Choosing an Event Name

It's not necessarily the most important thing, but you can kick off things with an inspiring contest name for the surf contest.

You may choose to feature the name of the venue or region and, eventually, throw in a few impactful and attractive expressions.

For instance - The California Surf Classic, The Supertubes Invitational, The Tasmania Pro/Am, or the Desert Point Open.

And if you're able to get a sponsor on board, all you have to do is add to the event's title to help maximize its investment.

Surf competition: professional events require multiple hospitality options | Photo: WSL

2. Picking the Venue

Choosing the contest's site is always mandatory when we're talking about a surf competition.

It could be your home break or any other spot with consistent quality waves that you feel will deliver the goods.

The worst thing you could do is select a venue that pumps epic barrels only on specific - and rare - swell and wind conditions.

You might also consider the distance from populated areas and well-known surf towns or regions if you plan to attract spectators.

Access to the venue and the holding period are also important variables to analyze before making the final decisions.

3. Setting a Budget

Are you holding your first ever surfing event?

You'll probably need a few sponsors to cover the basics: legal permissions from local authorities, a more or less sophisticated structure and scaffolding, lifeguards and water safety team, paramedic team, and prize money.

It might seem expensive, but you can easily get most of the above requirements from your local council for free with a few good contacts.

Most municipalities are open to these initiatives and will gladly support your effort with equipment and staff.

It is also possible to run an exciting surf comp at no cost.

However, you'll need to come up with a plan to convince everyone to do their part and help you put it up and running.

Surf competition: a judging tower or private judges area is mandatory | Photo: WSL

4. Choosing a Winning Team

A surf contest requires human resources for the multiple tasks involved in managing a water sports event.

So, you could set up a team of volunteers to help you host the competition. They could be your friends, relatives, or surf club members.

So, make a list of people who could help put out a great event and assign tasks to each and every one of them.

You'll need a beach marshall, a panel of judges - ideally five, plus an extra head judge - a beach commentator, and a timing disc system manager.

Additionally, you may want to include a communications manager, a hospitality person, and a beach cleanup team.

5. Submitting a Permission Request

In almost every country, private entities must submit permission requests to hold events in public spaces.

The first thing you need to do is contact the local council and ask for the requirements needed to get approval to run your surf contest.

Depending on the country and region, you'll encounter more or less bureaucracy.

The authorities will provide you with a list of guidelines, regulations, and procedures that should be followed and adopted to authorize you to go ahead with the showdown.

Most of them involve emergency plans, insurance policies, safety and risk assessment data, a map of the contest area, waste and environmental considerations, and in-water rescue plans.

Surf contest: always an event management challenge | Photo: WSL

6. Designing the Event's Format

Once the formalities have been completed, you may want to decide whether to organize an open or an invitation surf contest.

If it's a closed event, all you have to do is list the surfers you want to invite, as well as a series of alternate athletes that will be able to replace invitees that fail to show up.

Alternatively, you may want to open the contest to everyone and establish the seeding order.

If that's the case, athletes will need to register their interest, pay an entry fee, and confirm their participation a few days/hours before the start of the competition.

In both competitive formats, you may accept recreational, amateur, or professional surfers - it's up to you to decide which type of surf contest you want to hold.

7. Basic Equipment

You will need to bring a few items to the contest venue.

For instance, a pair of high-quality speakers and microphones for the beach commentator to announce wave scores, tents for athletes, judges, and organizers, a buzzer, and two large disc systems to inform surfers of priorities and heat time.

You also need black, white, red, yellow, and green jerseys for the athletes competing in the water and those who are about to paddle out for their heat.

A podium, medals, and trophies could also be interesting additional features to add to the mix.

8. Surf Forecasting and Alerts

Most surf contests are held within a waiting period that could go from a couple of days to several months.

Depending on your permissions and logistics agility, you may want to set the holding period for the time of the year that will most likely get good waves.

All competitors must be informed and updated on the kick-off dates and timetable at least 24 hours before the expected start of the first heat.

Getting an experienced surf forecaster or someone who knows the venue and its ideal wind and swell conditions only improves the quality of the official call.

Whenever you get the green light from the swell trackers, issue an alert to all competitors and, if it applies, inform the media and the public in general.

9. Real-Time Event Management

All events experience unexpected setbacks or challenges.

To minimize and mitigate problems, try to run a couple of rehearsals with your team to make sure everyone is in sync with the action in the water.

Also, make a list of all the potential issues you might get and plan a possible solution for each problem.

Remember that the safety of athletes, spectators, and staff should be your number one priority.

Then, good waves and fair judging will certainly make your event fun and memorable for competitors, spectators, organizers and, if it's the case, sponsors.

10. Leaving the Site Clean

Once the show is over, it's time to pack and go home.

However, you will need to leave the beach at least as clean as it was before the event.

Make sure the sand is free from water bottles, snack bags, cigarette butts, and all sorts of trash that your team and spectators could've left behind.

It is the responsibility of the surfing community to minimize the footprint on its ultimate sanctuary - the beach and the ocean.

The post-event beach cleanup is part of the contest itself.