Surfing Competitions: How Do They Actually Work? + Guide

Anything related to surfing is cool. The ocean is a given. Who wouldn’t agree that the ocean is cool especially during warmer days? 

Surf brands that market apparel, gears, and anything surf related are in and a lot of people are into them even when they don’t know how to surf. That is just how appealing surfing is to the world. 

With that said, I bet you would agree that surfing events and competitions aren’t the last in the list of cool things! They are fun to watch. They give us thrills and excitement. They connect us to our surfing heroes. To top it off, it just feels good to see people slay on the waters. 

Surfing Competitions: How Do They Work?

The world of surfing is fun. But, when it comes to competitions and events, it can be quite confusing. You would not want to look clueless the next time you attend a surfing event so we’re breaking it down for you. 

After this, you will be ready to talk about heats, priorities, wildcards like you really know what you are talking about. Not just ready but confident to understand and talk about it. 

Rules and Regulations

surfing competition

As with a lot of competitions, surf ones work comparatively the same way – there are those big international events, then the national ones. Generally, there are heats that a surfer needs to hit to step to the next round.

WSL (World Surf League) synchronizes annual tour of pro surf competitions taking in men’s and women’s CT (Championship Tours), the QS (Qualifying Series), the Longboard Championships, the Junior Championships, the Big Wave Tour, and the XXL Big Wave Awards. 

The rules are not too complicated although it is worth getting to understand as you watch the sport. Pretty much, these rules are in place to guarantee athletes’ safety, competition fairness, and more importantly, to encourage the best surfing experience in the field of live competition.   

WSL basics are:

  • Judging and points
  • Rankings 
  • Priority
  • Interference
  • Heat Restart 
  • Doping and Drug Use

Judging and Points

Surfing events are composed of rounds that are made up of heats. Heat comprises of two to four participants at the time – all coming from a pre-determined competition zone. They have between twenty to thirty minutes max to catch and ride the best waves possible. 

These surfers should lock in their two highest-scoring waves – both out of likely 10 points for a possible 20-point heat total. A group of 5 judges will score each wave on a scale of 1 to 10. Each ride, both the highest and the lowest scores are discounted into which the rider will receive the average of all scores. 

Scoring the waves will be based on the following elements:

  • Commitment and level of difficulty
  • Original and progressive maneuvers
  • Arrangement of major maneuvers
  • Variety of maneuvers
  • Speed, power, and flow

These elements are judged by the following scales: 

  • 0.0 – 1.9: Poor
  • 2.0 – 3.9: Fair
  • 4.0 – 5.9: Average
  • 6.0 – 7.9: Good
  • 8.0 – 10.0: Excellent

Rankings

man preparing to surf

Each surfer gets points based on their individual performance. The better they perform, the more points they get. These points get accumulated from every tour. For instance, on CT, the surfer that gets 10,000 points places 1st, 8,000 points places 2nd, and so on. 

These make up their CT Rankings. By the end of the year, the male and female surfers with the highest points get the top of the rankings and become the WSL Champions. 

 

Priority

The unconditional right of way to catch any waves is given to the surfer with priority. Other surfers present in the heat can paddle and catch the same wave provided that they do not impede the scoring possibility of the surfer with priority. 

Surfer loses priority once they snag a wave/or paddles for it but misses it. If two or more surfers are catching a wave, the first one to make it to the take-off zone gets the priority. 

Interference

During the heat where surfers can chase the same wave considering the rule of priority, the surfer who hampers the scoring potential of the one with priority will be awarded an interference penalty. Most of the time, it results in their heat score getting calculated only based on their best scoring wave. 

This is not applicable for BWT (Big Wave Tour) though. In this case, if a surfer causes double interferences during a heat, they will be barred from the heat. 

Heat Restart

Exclusive of BWT, the heat restart rule can be directed by a judge in case no one catches a wave by the first 10 minutes of a heat. 

Anti-Doping Rule

It was just in 2012 when WSL instituted Anti-Doping Policy. This aims to cover the use of both performance-enhancing and illicit substances. The rule applies not just to the surfer but to their active support staff, too. 

You may find WSL’s full rule book here

Events and Competitions

multiple men surfing

Surfing competitions started in a relaxed and lenient way. The first held surfing events were friendly races ran by Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Club and the then existing local surfing club. Photography during such events tickled the fancy of a lot of surfers that it began attracting surfers from all around to Corona del Mar and all the spots that held surfing events. 

At present, more than 45 events are running every year around the world. They happen at both well-known and less popular surfing destinations for pro and amateur surfers. They are covered live and are sponsored by corporate and TV ads. 

Championship Tours

The WCT (World Championship Tour) is the peak level circuit. This is where the likes of Kelly Slater, Julian Wilson, Filipe Toledo, Stephanie Gilmore, Coco Ho, and Carissa Moore belong. In WCT, the surfers’ goal is to bag the best-ranking position by the end of the year.

Who makes it to the WCT?

In the men’s division, they are: 

  • The 22 highest-ranking surfers of the CT 
  • The top 10 QS surfers get to enter the CT
  • 2 wildcards per competition

In the women’s division, they are:

  • The 10 highest-ranked on the CT 
  • The top 6 QS surfers get to enter the CT
  • 1 wildcard per competition
Event Location  Men/Women
Corona Open Gold Coast  Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia Men and Women
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia Men and Women
Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro Margaret River, Western Australia Men and Women
Quiksilver Pro G-Land G-Land, Banyuwangi, Indonesia Men and Women
Oi Rio Pro Saquarema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Men and Women
Corona Open J-Bay Jeffreys Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa Men and Women
Tahiti Pro Teahupo’o Teahupoʻo, Tahiti Men
Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold Pro Lemoore, California, US Men and Women
Quiksilver Pro France Capbreton, Hossegor, Seignosse, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France Men
MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal Peniche, Portugal Men
Billabong Pipe Masters Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii Men
Roxy Pro France Capbreton, Hossegor, Seignosse, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France Women

Challenger Series

Event Location  Men/Women
Sydney Surf Pro Manly Beach, NSW, Australia Men and Women
Corona Piha Pro Piha, Waitakere, New Zealand Men and Women
Vans US Open of Surfing Huntington Beach, California, US Men and Women
Pantin Classic ABANCA GALICIA CLASSIC SURF PRO Playa Pantin, Valdoviño, Galicia, Spain Men and Women
EDP Billabong Pro Ericeira Ribeira D’Ilhas, Ericeira, Portugal Men
Hawaiian Pro Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii Men
Vans World Cup of Surfing Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Men

Qualifying Series

The WQS (World Qualifying Series) is the event where the bulk of the professional surfers compete. Their common goal is to make the most points as possible so they can join the elite circuit – the WCT (World Championship Tour). 

Event Location  Men/Women
Corona Open China Wanning, Hainan Island, China Men and Women
Sunset Open Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Men
Pro Taghazout Bay Anchor Point, Taghazout Bay, Morocco Men
Volcom Pipe Pro Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii Men
Carve Pro Maroubra, Sydney, Australia Men and Women
SLO CAL Open at Pismo Beach Pismo Beach, California, US Men and Women
Cabreiroá Pro Las Americas Las Americas, Tenerife, Canary Islands Men and Women
Oi Hang Loose Pro Contest Fernando de Noronha, Pernambuco, Brazil Men
Mothernest Great Lakes Pro Boomerang Beach, NSW, Australia Men and Women
Vissla Central Coast Pro Avoca Beach, NSW, Australia Men
SLO CAL Open at Morro Bay Morro Bay, California, US Men and Women
Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro Rangiroa, Tuamotus, French Polynesia Men
Surfest Newcastle Pro Newcastle, NSW, Australia Men
Sydney Surf Pro Manly Beach, NSW, Australia Men and Women
Ron Jon Quiksilver Pro Shepard Beach Park, Cocoa Beach, Florida Men
Corona Piha Pro  Piha, Waitakere, New Zealand Men and Women
Barbados Surf Pro Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, Barbados Men and Women
Seat Pro Netanya Kontiki Beach, Netanya, Israel Men
Jack’s Surfboards Pro Huntington Beach, California, US Men and Women
Caparica Surf Fest Pro Praia de Caparica, Lisbon, Portugal Men and Women
Pro Santa Cruz  Praia da Fisica, Santa Cruz, Portugal Men
Rip Curl Pro Argentina Playa Grande, Mar del Plata, Argentina Men and Women
Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Pro Pipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, South Africa Men and Women
Royal St Andrews Hotel Port Alfred Classic East Beach, Port Alfred, South Africa Men and Women
Gold Coast Open Burleigh Heads, Queensland, Australia Men and Women
Thirsti Cape Town Surf Pro Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa Men and Women
Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour  El Gringo, Arica, Chile Men
Vic Bay Classic Victoria Bay, Western Cape, South Africa Men and Women
Volkswagen SA Open of Surfing Pipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, South Africa Men and Women
Nias Pro Nias, Lagundri Bay, Indonesia Men and Women
Vans Surf Open Acapulco Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico Men
Simeulue Pro  Dylans, Simeulue Island, Aceh, Indonesia Men and Women
Krui Pro Ujung Bocur, Krui, Indonesia Men and Women
Vans US Open of Surfing Huntington Beach, California, US Men and Women
Pantin Classic ABANCA GALICIA CLASSIC SURF PRO Playa Pantin, Valdoviño, Galicia, Spain Men and Women
Vans Pro Virginia Beach, VA, US Men
Cimaja Pro Cimaja, West Java, Indonesia Men and Women
WRV Outer Banks Pro Nags Head, North Carolina, US Men and Women
Senegal Pro  Surfers Paradise, Dakar, Senegal Men
Shonan Open Kugenuma Beach, Shonan, Japan Men
Azores Airlines Pro  Sao Miguel, Portugal Men
So Sri Lanka Pro Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka Men
EDP Billabong Pro Ericeira Ribeira D’Ilhas, Ericeira, Portugal Men
Central Japan Open Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka, Japan Men and Women
Siargao Cloud 9 Surfing Cup Cloud 9, Siargao Island, Philippines Men
Oaxaca Pro Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico Men
Mandurah Pro  Mandurah, Western Australia, Australia Men
Salvador Surf Classic Praia de Stella Maris, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil Men
Cape Naturaliste Pro Cape Naturaliste, Yallingup, Western Australia Men and Women
Hyuga Pro Ogurahama Hyuga-shi, Miyazaki, Japan Men and Women
Phillip Island Pro  Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island, Australia Men
Thomo QS in Memory of Bill Thomson Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, Barbados Men
Hawaiian Pro Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii Men
Taiwan Open of Surfing Jinzun Harbour, Taitung, Taiwan Men
Vans World Cup of Surfing Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Men
Maui and Sons Pichilemu Pro Punta de Lobos, Pichilemu, Chile Women
Sisstrevolution Central Coast Pro Avoca Beach, NSW, Australia Women
Doyle Partners Women’s Pro Newcastle, NSW, Australia Women
Papara Pro Open Tahiti Paparā, Tahiti, French Polynesia Women
Super Girl Pro Oceanside Pier, California, US Women

Big Wave

Event Location  Men/Women
Jaws Championship Pe’ahi Pe’ahi, Maui, Hawaii Men and Women
Nazare Challenge Nazaré, Leiria, Portugal Men

Longboard Tour

Event Location  Men/Women
Noosa Longboard Open Noosa, Queensland, Australia Men and Women
Longboard Pro Espinho Espinho, Porto, Portugal Men and Women
Oi Longboard Series Praia de Stella Maris, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil Men and Women
Whalebone Classic  Cottesloe, Perth, Western Australia Men and Women
Oi Longboard Series Florianópolis, Santa Catarina , Brazil Men and Women
Longboard Classic New York Nassau County, New York, US Men and Women

Junior Tour

Event Location  Men/Women
Hydralyte Sports Surf Series Qld Pro Junior Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia Men and Women
Sunset Pro Junior Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Men and Women

Lake Mac City Pro Junior
Redhead Beach, NSW, Australia Men and Women
Sydney Surf Pro Junior Manly Beach, NSW, Australia Men and Women

Papara Pro Junior Tahiti
Paparā, Tahiti, French Polynesia Men and Women
Ron Jon Quiksilver Junior Pro Shepard Beach Park, Cocoa Beach, Florida Men
Piha Pro Junior Piha, Waitakere, New Zealand Men and Women
Junior Pro Espinho Espinho, Porto, Portugal Men and Women
Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Pro Pipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, South Africa Men
Royal St Andrews Hotel Port Alfred Classic  East Beach, Port Alfred, South Africa Men
OI Pro Junior Series  Praia de Stella Maris, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil Men and Women
Hydralyte Sports Surf Series pres by Hyundai – NSW Pro Junior Sydney, NSW, Australia Men and Women
E.Leclerc Pont-L’Abbé Junior Pro La Torche La Torche, Finistere, Bretagne, France Men and Women
Iquique Pro Junior Playa Cavancha, Iquique, Chile Men
Thirsti Cape Town Surf Pro Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa Men and Women
Hydralyte Sports Shoalhaven Pro Junior Shoalhaven, NSW, Australia Men and Women
Vic Bay Classic Victoria Bay, Western Cape, South Africa Men
Volkswagen SA Open of Surfing Pipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, South Africa Men and Women
Ballito O’Neill SMTH Shapes Pro Junior  Ballito, South Africa Men and Women
Junior Pro 40  Capbreton, Hossegor, Seignosse, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France Men and Women
Skullcandy Pro Junior New South Wales, Australia Men and Women
Shonan Magic Junior Kanagawa, Kanagawa, Japan Men and Women
Vans US Open of Surfing  Huntington Beach, California, US Men and Women
Vans Pro Junior Virginia Beach, VA, US Men

OI Pro Junior Series
Florianópolis, Santa Catarina , Brazil Men and Women
Seal Point Pro Junior Cape St. Francis, Eastern Cape, South Africa Men and Women
Hydralyte Sports Surf Series VIC Pro Junior Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia Men and Women
Newport Pro Junior 56th Street, Newport Beach, California Men and Women
Ise Shima Pro Junior Kohnohama, Ise Shima Mie, Japan Men and Women
WSL Hawaii Pro Junior at Turtle Bay Resort Turtle Bay, Oahu, Hawaii Men and Women
Live Like Zander Junior Pro Soup Bowl, Bathsheba, Barbados Men and Women
Mancora Junior Pro Peru Piura, Talara, Peru Men and Women
WSL Junior Championships Jinzun Harbour, Taitung, Taiwan Men and Women
Ron Jon Roxy Junior Pro Shepard Beach Park, Cocoa Beach, Florida Women
Heroes de Mayo Iquique Pro Junior Iquique, Chile Women
Pena Little Monster Praia da Taíba, Ceará, Brazil Women

Specialty Events

Event Location  Men/Women
Cell C Goodwave New Pier, Durban, South Africa
Nudie Australian Boardriders Battle Final New South Wales, New South Wales, Australia
Red Bull Airborne Gold Coast  Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Red Bull Airborne Brazil Saquarema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rip Curl Cup Padang Padang Pecatu, Bali, Indonesia
Men’s Duct Tape Invitational Huntington Beach, California, US Men
Women’s Duct Tape Invitational Huntington Beach, California, US Women
Red Bull Airborne Series Huntington Beach, California, US
Surf de Nuit Anglet Chambre d’Amour, Anglet, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France
Red Bull Airborne Series France Capbreton, Hossegor, Seignosse, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France
Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Oahu, Hawaii, US

 Vans Triple Crown

Event Location  Men/Women
Hawaiian Pro Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii Men
Vans World Cup of Surfing Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii Men
Billabong Pipe Masters Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii Men

Conclusion

Now that you have an idea of how everything goes in surfing events and competitions, you may now follow your darling surfers when the big league events they are in are on – whether live or on the broadcast. This time, you have some tangible clue of what is going on. 

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Who are leading the boards for Championship Tours?

A: Preseason leaders as of writing (June 25, 2020) are:

  • Men:
  1. Italo Ferreira
  2. Gabriel Medina
  3. Jordy Smith
  4. Filipe Toledo
  5. Kolohe Andino
  • Women
  1. Carissa Moore
  2. Caroline Marks
  3. Lakey Peterson
  4. Stephanie Gilmore
  5. Sally Fitzgibbons

Q: How are waves scored?

A: A panel consisting of 5 judges, scores each wave on a scale of 1 to 10. Each scoring ride is discounted and the surfer gets the average of the remaining 3 scores. There are no limits on the number of waves that can be scored, but it will boil down to the two best scoring waves. Each score is to be added together to become the surfer’s heat total. 

Q: Are scoring different between CT and QS events?

A: No. Scoring applies the same for both events. 

Q: What events does the WSL coordinate?

A: Almost majority of surfing events are coordinated by WSL. Such are: 

  • Championship Tours (CT)
  • Qualifying Series (QS)
  • Big Wave Tour
  • Longboard Championship
  • Junior Championship
  • Masters Championship
  • WSL Awards and Big Wave Awards

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