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Every year the WSL holds championship and qualifying events throughout the calender to decide the best male and female surfers, but you're not sure how surf competitions are judged. As for the heats themselves, how exactly do the judges go about scoring the surfers? Read on to find out how it all works.
Rounds of Heats
Each competition is based on elimination rounds where several heats are played. Each heat is played with either 2 or 3 surfers depending on the round.
The structure generally goes:
Round 1: 12 heats of 3 surfers. The winner moves to round 3 while the others go to round 2.
Round 2: 12 heats of head to head. The winner moves on to round 3 while the loser is eliminated.
Round 3: 12 heats of head to head. The winner moves to round 4 while the loser is eliminated.
Round 4: 4 heats of 3 surfers. The winner moves to the quarter finals while the others go to round 5.
Round 5: 4 heats of head to head. The winner goes to the quarter finals while the loser is eliminated.
Quarter finals: 4 heats of head to head. The winner goes to the semi-finals while the loser is eliminated.
Semi-finals: 2 heats of head to head. The winner goes to the final while the loser is eliminated.
Final: 1 heat of head to head. The winner is crowned champion, the loser the runner-up. Each heat can be 20-30 minutes and the competition can be wrapped up in 3 to 4 days.
You can also have 4 man heats, be the structure doesn't change much. With as many as 11 male and 10 female championship tours and 45 world qualifying series events every year, it works out as a hell of a lot of surfing!
Judges and Scoring
For the competitions, there are 5 judges per heat. They watch the surfers and deem a score per wave from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest. For the whole heat the surfers can ride as many as possible but only the 2 highest scoring waves will go into the final score for each surfer. With only their 2 best waves scoring, it means 20 points is the maximum for each heat. On the panel of 5 judges, the highest scoring and lowest scoring judge have their totals removed and the remaining 3 scores average out for the final score. By doing this each competitor has to give it their all on every wave to make sure they get a good score. Surfing, however, is quite subjective to score.
It doesn't rely on goal posts but on expression, like gymnastics. In order to score each wave, the judges have a 5-point set of criteria as stated on the WSL website:
- Commitment and degree of difficulty
- Innovative and progressive manouevres
- Combination of major manouevres
- Variety of manouevres
- Speed, power and flow
By using this set of key things to observe on each wave, judges must keep their eyes peeled and giving full attention because once a score is given it cannot be altered. It's down to the head judge for making sure that all the judges are honestly scoring as they cannot confer scores at all during a competition.
With a bit more insight into how surf competitions are judged you can join in with the scoring next time! If you liked this article, check out some more posts on reading surf forecasts or common mistakes to avoid before surfing.