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
EventLocation Men/Women
Corona Open Gold Coast Gold Coast, Queensland, AustraliaMen and Women
Rip Curl Pro Bells BeachBells Beach, Victoria, AustraliaMen and Women
Boost Mobile Margaret River ProMargaret River, Western AustraliaMen and Women
Quiksilver Pro G-LandG-Land, Banyuwangi, IndonesiaMen and Women
Oi Rio ProSaquarema, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilMen and Women
Corona Open J-BayJeffreys Bay, Eastern Cape, South AfricaMen and Women
Tahiti Pro Teahupo’oTeahupoʻo, TahitiMen
Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold ProLemoore, California, USMen and Women
Quiksilver Pro FranceCapbreton, Hossegor, Seignosse, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, FranceMen
MEO Rip Curl Pro PortugalPeniche, PortugalMen
Billabong Pipe MastersBanzai Pipeline, Oahu, HawaiiMen
Roxy Pro FranceCapbreton, Hossegor, Seignosse, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, FranceWomen

Challenger Series

EventLocation Men/Women
Sydney Surf ProManly Beach, NSW, AustraliaMen and Women
Corona Piha ProPiha, Waitakere, New ZealandMen and Women
Vans US Open of SurfingHuntington Beach, California, USMen and Women
Pantin Classic ABANCA GALICIA CLASSIC SURF PROPlaya Pantin, Valdoviño, Galicia, SpainMen and Women
EDP Billabong Pro EriceiraRibeira D’Ilhas, Ericeira, PortugalMen
Hawaiian ProHaleiwa, Oahu, HawaiiMen
Vans World Cup of SurfingSunset Beach, Oahu, HawaiiMen

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). 

EventLocation Men/Women
Corona Open ChinaWanning, Hainan Island, ChinaMen and Women
Sunset OpenSunset Beach, Oahu, HawaiiMen
Pro Taghazout BayAnchor Point, Taghazout Bay, MoroccoMen
Volcom Pipe ProBanzai Pipeline, Oahu, HawaiiMen
Carve ProMaroubra, Sydney, AustraliaMen and Women
SLO CAL Open at Pismo BeachPismo Beach, California, USMen and Women
Cabreiroá Pro Las AmericasLas Americas, Tenerife, Canary IslandsMen and Women
Oi Hang Loose Pro ContestFernando de Noronha, Pernambuco, BrazilMen
Mothernest Great Lakes ProBoomerang Beach, NSW, AustraliaMen and Women
Vissla Central Coast ProAvoca Beach, NSW, AustraliaMen
SLO CAL Open at Morro BayMorro Bay, California, USMen and Women
Air Tahiti Rangiroa ProRangiroa, Tuamotus, French PolynesiaMen
Surfest Newcastle ProNewcastle, NSW, AustraliaMen
Sydney Surf ProManly Beach, NSW, AustraliaMen and Women
Ron Jon Quiksilver ProShepard Beach Park, Cocoa Beach, FloridaMen
Corona Piha Pro Piha, Waitakere, New ZealandMen and Women
Barbados Surf ProSoup Bowl, Bathsheba, BarbadosMen and Women
Seat Pro NetanyaKontiki Beach, Netanya, IsraelMen
Jack’s Surfboards ProHuntington Beach, California, USMen and Women
Caparica Surf Fest ProPraia de Caparica, Lisbon, PortugalMen and Women
Pro Santa Cruz Praia da Fisica, Santa Cruz, PortugalMen
Rip Curl Pro ArgentinaPlaya Grande, Mar del Plata, ArgentinaMen and Women
Nelson Mandela Bay Surf ProPipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, South AfricaMen and Women
Royal St Andrews Hotel Port Alfred ClassicEast Beach, Port Alfred, South AfricaMen and Women
Gold Coast OpenBurleigh Heads, Queensland, AustraliaMen and Women
Thirsti Cape Town Surf ProCape Town, Western Cape, South AfricaMen and Women
Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour El Gringo, Arica, ChileMen
Vic Bay ClassicVictoria Bay, Western Cape, South AfricaMen and Women
Volkswagen SA Open of SurfingPipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, South AfricaMen and Women
Nias ProNias, Lagundri Bay, IndonesiaMen and Women
Vans Surf Open AcapulcoAcapulco, Guerrero, MexicoMen
Simeulue Pro Dylans, Simeulue Island, Aceh, IndonesiaMen and Women
Krui ProUjung Bocur, Krui, IndonesiaMen and Women
Vans US Open of SurfingHuntington Beach, California, USMen and Women
Pantin Classic ABANCA GALICIA CLASSIC SURF PROPlaya Pantin, Valdoviño, Galicia, SpainMen and Women
Vans ProVirginia Beach, VA, USMen
Cimaja ProCimaja, West Java, IndonesiaMen and Women
WRV Outer Banks ProNags Head, North Carolina, USMen and Women
Senegal Pro Surfers Paradise, Dakar, SenegalMen
Shonan OpenKugenuma Beach, Shonan, JapanMen
Azores Airlines Pro Sao Miguel, PortugalMen
So Sri Lanka ProArugam Bay, Sri LankaMen
EDP Billabong Pro EriceiraRibeira D’Ilhas, Ericeira, PortugalMen
Central Japan OpenHamamatsu City, Shizuoka, JapanMen and Women
Siargao Cloud 9 Surfing CupCloud 9, Siargao Island, PhilippinesMen
Oaxaca ProPuerto Escondido, Oaxaca, MexicoMen
Mandurah Pro Mandurah, Western Australia, AustraliaMen
Salvador Surf ClassicPraia de Stella Maris, Salvador, Bahia, BrazilMen
Cape Naturaliste ProCape Naturaliste, Yallingup, Western AustraliaMen and Women
Hyuga ProOgurahama Hyuga-shi, Miyazaki, JapanMen and Women
Phillip Island Pro Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island, AustraliaMen
Thomo QS in Memory of Bill ThomsonSoup Bowl, Bathsheba, BarbadosMen
Hawaiian ProHaleiwa, Oahu, HawaiiMen
Taiwan Open of SurfingJinzun Harbour, Taitung, TaiwanMen
Vans World Cup of SurfingSunset Beach, Oahu, HawaiiMen
Maui and Sons Pichilemu ProPunta de Lobos, Pichilemu, ChileWomen
Sisstrevolution Central Coast ProAvoca Beach, NSW, AustraliaWomen
Doyle Partners Women’s ProNewcastle, NSW, AustraliaWomen
Papara Pro Open TahitiPaparā, Tahiti, French PolynesiaWomen
Super Girl ProOceanside Pier, California, USWomen

Big Wave

EventLocation Men/Women
Jaws Championship Pe’ahiPe’ahi, Maui, HawaiiMen and Women
Nazare ChallengeNazaré, Leiria, PortugalMen

Longboard Tour

EventLocation Men/Women
Noosa Longboard OpenNoosa, Queensland, AustraliaMen and Women
Longboard Pro EspinhoEspinho, Porto, PortugalMen and Women
Oi Longboard SeriesPraia de Stella Maris, Salvador, Bahia, BrazilMen and Women
Whalebone Classic Cottesloe, Perth, Western AustraliaMen and Women
Oi Longboard SeriesFlorianópolis, Santa Catarina , BrazilMen and Women
Longboard Classic New YorkNassau County, New York, USMen and Women

Junior Tour

EventLocation Men/Women
Hydralyte Sports Surf Series Qld Pro JuniorGold Coast, Queensland, AustraliaMen and Women
Sunset Pro JuniorSunset Beach, Oahu, HawaiiMen and Women

Lake Mac City Pro Junior
Redhead Beach, NSW, AustraliaMen and Women
Sydney Surf Pro JuniorManly Beach, NSW, AustraliaMen and Women

Papara Pro Junior Tahiti
Paparā, Tahiti, French PolynesiaMen and Women
Ron Jon Quiksilver Junior ProShepard Beach Park, Cocoa Beach, FloridaMen
Piha Pro JuniorPiha, Waitakere, New ZealandMen and Women
Junior Pro EspinhoEspinho, Porto, PortugalMen and Women
Nelson Mandela Bay Surf ProPipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, South AfricaMen
Royal St Andrews Hotel Port Alfred Classic East Beach, Port Alfred, South AfricaMen
OI Pro Junior Series Praia de Stella Maris, Salvador, Bahia, BrazilMen and Women
Hydralyte Sports Surf Series pres by Hyundai – NSW Pro JuniorSydney, NSW, AustraliaMen and Women
E.Leclerc Pont-L’Abbé Junior Pro La TorcheLa Torche, Finistere, Bretagne, FranceMen and Women
Iquique Pro JuniorPlaya Cavancha, Iquique, ChileMen
Thirsti Cape Town Surf ProCape Town, Western Cape, South AfricaMen and Women
Hydralyte Sports Shoalhaven Pro JuniorShoalhaven, NSW, AustraliaMen and Women
Vic Bay ClassicVictoria Bay, Western Cape, South AfricaMen
Volkswagen SA Open of SurfingPipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, South AfricaMen and Women
Ballito O’Neill SMTH Shapes Pro Junior Ballito, South AfricaMen and Women
Junior Pro 40 Capbreton, Hossegor, Seignosse, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, FranceMen and Women
Skullcandy Pro JuniorNew South Wales, AustraliaMen and Women
Shonan Magic JuniorKanagawa, Kanagawa, JapanMen and Women
Vans US Open of Surfing Huntington Beach, California, USMen and Women
Vans Pro JuniorVirginia Beach, VA, USMen

OI Pro Junior Series
Florianópolis, Santa Catarina , BrazilMen and Women
Seal Point Pro JuniorCape St. Francis, Eastern Cape, South AfricaMen and Women
Hydralyte Sports Surf Series VIC Pro JuniorBells Beach, Victoria, AustraliaMen and Women
Newport Pro Junior56th Street, Newport Beach, CaliforniaMen and Women
Ise Shima Pro JuniorKohnohama, Ise Shima Mie, JapanMen and Women
WSL Hawaii Pro Junior at Turtle Bay ResortTurtle Bay, Oahu, HawaiiMen and Women
Live Like Zander Junior ProSoup Bowl, Bathsheba, BarbadosMen and Women
Mancora Junior Pro PeruPiura, Talara, PeruMen and Women
WSL Junior ChampionshipsJinzun Harbour, Taitung, TaiwanMen and Women
Ron Jon Roxy Junior ProShepard Beach Park, Cocoa Beach, FloridaWomen
Heroes de Mayo Iquique Pro JuniorIquique, ChileWomen
Pena Little MonsterPraia da Taíba, Ceará, BrazilWomen

Specialty Events

EventLocation Men/Women
Cell C GoodwaveNew Pier, Durban, South Africa
Nudie Australian Boardriders Battle FinalNew South Wales, New South Wales, Australia
Red Bull Airborne Gold Coast Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Red Bull Airborne BrazilSaquarema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rip Curl Cup Padang PadangPecatu, Bali, Indonesia
Men’s Duct Tape InvitationalHuntington Beach, California, USMen
Women’s Duct Tape InvitationalHuntington Beach, California, USWomen
Red Bull Airborne SeriesHuntington Beach, California, US
Surf de Nuit AngletChambre d’Amour, Anglet, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France
Red Bull Airborne Series FranceCapbreton, Hossegor, Seignosse, Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France
Vans Triple Crown of SurfingOahu, Hawaii, US

 Vans Triple Crown

EventLocation Men/Women
Hawaiian ProHaleiwa, Oahu, HawaiiMen
Vans World Cup of SurfingSunset Beach, Oahu, HawaiiMen
Billabong Pipe MastersBanzai Pipeline, Oahu, HawaiiMen

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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