How Surfing Is Scored? Understand Surfing Competitions Rules

How surfing is scored?

Are you ready to ride the waves and claim your spot as the ultimate surfer? Well, before you start shredding, you need to know how surfing is scored.

Unlike other sports that rely on a clear-cut numerical system to determine the winner, surfing is judged by a panel of experts who rate a surfer’s performance based on a set of subjective criteria.

It’s not like soccer, tennis, or basketball where goals and points can be tallied up. No, in surfing, it’s all about impressing the judges with your style, technique, and ability to ride the biggest and raddest waves.

So, let’s take a deep dive into the wild world of surfing scoring and find out what it takes to be a champion in the waves.

Plus, with surfing making its second-time appearance at the 2024 Olympics, this is a knowledge you won’t want to miss.

Surfing Competitions by World Surf League

If you’re new to the world of surfing, or just like to surf casually but never watched competitions, the World Surf League (WSL) is your ultimate guide.

They coordinate the annual tour of professional surf competitions, including everything from the men’s and women’s Championship Tours (CT) to the Longboard Championships, Junior Championships, Big Wave Tour, and XXL Big Wave Awards.

With so many events and categories, it can be tough to keep up with all the action.

But don’t worry, the rules of professional surfing aren’t too complicated, and they’re in place to ensure the safety of the athletes and the fairness of competition.

Judges and Scoring

Competitions in surfing consist of rounds which are comprised of heats. Each heat includes two to four surfers and they aim to catch their two highest-scoring waves.

Each wave is scored on a scale of one to ten by a panel of five judges. The surfer’s score is the average of the three middle scores after the highest and lowest scores are discarded.

There is no limit on the number of waves that can be scored. However, a surfer’s heat total is the sum of the scores of their two best waves, each of which can earn a maximum of ten points, resulting in a possible total of 20 points for the heat.

When it comes to scoring waves, judges evaluate the following elements, excluding Longboard or BWT events:

  • The surfer’s level of commitment and the degree of difficulty of their maneuvers.
  • The level of innovation and progression demonstrated by the surfer’s maneuvers.
  • The combination of major maneuvers that the surfer performs.
  • The variety of maneuvers displayed by the surfer.
  • The surfer’s speed, power, and flow during the ride.

The judging scale ranges from 0.0 to 10.0, with the following categories:

  • Poor: scores between 0.0 and 1.9
  • Fair: scores between 2.0 and 4.9
  • Good: scores between 5.0 and 6.4
  • Very Good: scores between 6.5 and 7.9
  • Excellent: scores between 8.0 and 10.0.

Different Circumstances For Judges to Take Into Account

To gain a better understanding of how surfing competitions operate, it’s important to consider several factors that judges take into account when scoring waves.

One of the most critical factors that influence a surfer’s score is the quality of the waves, which can vary significantly from day to day.

Before the competition begins, judges establish a scoring scale based on the range of scores that are realistically achievable given the current conditions.

As an example, in the Tahiti Pro Teahupoo, where the waves are large and barrelling, the judges may establish a scale with a maximum of 10 points per wave.

Conversely, during the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, where the waves are typically smaller and more affected by wind, the scale may be reduced to 7.5 points.

It’s worth noting that the scale can fluctuate throughout the day based on changing wave conditions.

In addition to wave quality and conditions, judges take into account the skill level and age of the surfers competing.

For example, at a WCT event featuring experienced surfers, judges may be more critical in their scoring, whereas at a junior event featuring surfers aged 13 to 15, judges may be more generous with their scores in order to enhance the excitement and competitiveness of the contest.


Following each event, surfers receive points based on their final ranking, with higher-performing surfers earning more points.

For instance, in the Championship Tour (CT), the winner receives 10,000 points, the runner-up receives 7,800 points, and so on.

These points are then added together to determine each surfer’s overall CT ranking.


The surfer with priority has an unrestricted right of way to catch any wave they desire. While other surfers may attempt to catch the same wave, they may not interfere with the scoring potential of the surfer with priority.

Priority is forgone if the surfer catches a wave or if another surfer paddles for but fails to catch a wave. In the event that two or more surfers catch a wave, the first surfer to reach the take-off zone will regain priority.


When a surfer with priority is impeded by another surfer, the latter will be penalized for interference.

Typically, this results in the offender’s score is based solely on their top-scoring wave.

However, in BWT events, a surfer who causes two interferences in a heat will be eliminated from the competition.

Restarting Heat

Surfing competitions follow a typical tournament structure where winners advance and losers are eliminated until only two finalists remain.

In some cases, the top two scorers of opening round heats will progress, and in elimination rounds, only the highest-scoring rider advances.

This process continues until the final, with quarterfinals and semifinals along the way.

With the exception of BWT, if no waves are ridden during the first 10 minutes of a heat, the Head Judge may opt to restart the heat.


Now that you’re equipped with this knowledge, you can sit back, relax, and truly appreciate the skill and talent of these incredible surfers.

Whether you’re watching from the comfort of your own home or catching a live event on the beach, you’ll be able to understand exactly what’s going on and why certain scores are being awarded.