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Surf Competitions Explained

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Following the recent Canadian National Surfing Championships that were held in the Pacific Rim National Park and the inclusion of surfing in the 2020 Olympics, we thought it would be fitting to shred a little light on the world of competitive surfing. Surfing is free and individual pursuit. Some don’t even consider it a sport, but rather something completely different. It’s all about your own enjoyment, so how do we turn it into a competition?

Surf contests are most commonly a ‘knock-out’ tournament format. Competing surfers are placed into 20 - 30 minutes heats with around four surfers per heat. Heats take place in a pre-designated contest area, usually marked by buoys or flags on the beach. The top two scoring surfers in each heat of four advance to the next round.

How are the top two decided? Judges on the shore score each of the competitors rides on a scale of 0 - 10. Here’s the breakdown:

0 - 3 points: Low. Wave not surfed to full potential. Surfer falls or doesn’t fully complete wave.
3 - 5 points: Average. surfer completes some maneuvers, but still lacking in critical ability, connection of maneuvers and/ or controlled completion of wave.
5 - 7.9: Good. Surfer connects multiple maneuvers on the same wave, displaying variety and control.
8 - 10: Excellent. Surfer connects multiple maneuvers, displaying variety and control as well as added critical nature of maneuvers. E.g. executes extremely difficult maneuver with control and style.

You are scored on your best 2 waves, so your final heat score is out of 20.

The goal is to improve your scores throughout the heat so as to stay ahead of the pack or get yourself into those top two spots.

So there you have your basic surf contest formula. Now add a bit of prize money and watch the surfers come out of the woodworks to show their skills. The best way for you to understand what I’m talking about is to go and experience a contest for yourself. Whether it be through participating or spectating, I guarantee you will learn a lot! And, if anything else, it’s a great excuse to spend an entire weekend at the beach. 

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