How A Surf Competition Is Judged

surfing competition highlight

“How can a judge give a numerical score when evaluating a surfer’s performance?” this question always comes into mind when watching a professional surfing competition.

Judges looks for the unique element of speed, style, and power of each surfer. Considering all of these categories mean that as a judge, you should give the highest score to the surfer who gets to ride a wave with the utmost speed, control, and power.

In order to win a surfing competition, surfers need to perform to the ASP judging key elements. The following major elements are used when scoring waves:

1. Commitment & degree of difficulty
2. Innovative & progressive maneuvers
3. Combination of major maneuvers
4. Variety of maneuvers
5. Speed, power and flow

Note: A surfer’s style is not an issue unless it interferes with the speed, control, or power of the performance.

Assigning Points

Every wave is designated a score that ranges from 0.5 - 10 points. The simple act of standing up on the board and straightening out your body already warrants a score of 0.5. Leverage may be given to a surfer when there are heavy conditions and a fierce drop occurs.

However, wave conditions may also affect how the maneuvers of every surfer are given points. When giving score to a “Pipeline” wave, it will be all about the tube. This wave can gain a score which is higher than any other waves. Score adjustments are needed for point breaks because they offer longer rides and more number of maneuvers.

Wave scoring is done in five quality levels:

• 0 - 1.9 (Poor)
• 2 - 3.9 (Fair)
• 4 - 5.9 (Average)
• 6 - 7.9 (Good)
• 8 - 10 (Excellent)

Note that a maneuver needs to be completed for it to be scored. A radical maneuver can only be scored if the rider emerges with both feet on the board and still being pushed by the force of the wave. All wave conditions hold different scoring criteria for maneuvers.

The Scoring Scale

Judging all of the waves based on the initially completed ride is an easy way to set the scoring scale. You need to keep in mind the first wave so that you can evaluate if the succeeding waves are much better or worse. This technique will help eliminate concerns when wave conditions change. Remember not to base your scores on previous heats because the first wave should serve as the standard.


Aside from following the rules in a surfing competition, competitors cannot always catch the waves they want. Judges always pay close attention to the surfer who took off and gets to his/her feet first. That is why the surfer who is closest to the peak during takeoff needs to be given priority. If other surfers happen to drop in or bump boards then he/she losses the opportunity for that highest scoring wave.
Keep in mind that you only need to score what you see. In case of one mistaken score, an averaging process will be done using the score from the other judges. Make sure that the contest area is easily viewable. Identify the difficult to see areas and inform the surfers properly.

Competitive Surfing

For a 1-to-3 star surf competition, six-judge panel is enough with four judges per heat while seven judges are needed for 6-Star surf competitions and Prime events, as well as the World Junior competitions.
ASP Rule Books indicates that the judges need to be visually separated and that the Head Judge has the responsibility of ensuring that the judges do not discuss scores and/or interference calls.

An “M” is placed in the square of the manual judge’s sheet if a judge fails to see a wave or part of a wave. The Head Judge also needs to be contacted immediately once this happens.

No changes can be made once scores are entered into the computer. The use of the video replay system will only be granted for urgent situations.
When a scoring decision is made it is deemed irrevocable no matter what proof is available unless the Head judge decides that majority of the panel did not see the situation completely.

Get updated in our blogs for more information about surfing competitions and surf lessons South Australia.