You might associate surfing with chilled out summer days and laid-back thrill seekers, but this is a sport with a serious element of competition.
Competitive surfing is a long-established sport, drawing surfers from across the globe to the planet’s biggest waves.
If you’ve ever watched a surfing competition, you might have been too distracted by the awe-inspiring display of both power and beauty to really stop and think about exactly how they choose a winner.
But with surfing now on the Olympic roster, you’re probably interested in learning exactly how surfing is scored. Surfing is scored by a panel of judges, who reward marks based on the skill and flow of maneuvers.
It can be hard to understand surfing at first but like other judged sports, such as diving and gymnastics, you can pick it up pretty quickly.
To learn more about how surfing is scored at the Olympics, and what viewers need to look out for, check out this guide.
How Is Olympic Surfing Scored?
Olympic surfing is scored by a panel of five judges. These judges will watch each surfer tackle the waves in a set period of time, and reward a score on a scale between zero and ten to two decimal places for each wave.
Olympic surfers compete in heats, which last for between 20 and 35 minutes. How long a heat lasts depends on the wave conditions.
During this period, the surfers can catch as many waves as possible — following standard surfing etiquette. The surfer nearest to the peak is the one to ride it. The judges score each wave, with the highest and lowest judges’ score being dropped.
The final total is the surfer’s two highest-scoring waves combined. As a perfect ride would be 10 points, the perfect total would be 20 points. Surfers have to think tactically.
Although they might want to try and ride as many waves as possible, the wave selection is a key element in determining a good score. Ultimately, two good waves are better than ten bad waves.
Several surfers compete in a heat at the same time, with the number of competitors determined by the stage of the competition.
So, this is how each Olympic surf competition is judged. But what are the judges looking for when deciding on a score?
What Is The Judging Criteria For Olympic Surfing?
The judges are looking for five criteria when scoring:
- Commitment and degree of difficulty
- Innovative and progressive maneuvers
- Variety of maneuvers
- Combination of major maneuvers
- Speed, power, and flow
These five criteria form the core of the sport. Judges view the competition from a raised platform so that they can see all the riders catching all the waves.
Commitment And Degree Of Difficulty
This is the most important criterion for judging. A rider has to commit fully to their wave, and not just drift through it. They have to show that they’re making the most of the wave’s potential.
To do this, they have to demonstrate difficult maneuvers and movements.
Innovative And Progressive Maneuvers
Surfing is a constantly evolving sport, so to earn a good score, surfers also have to use innovative techniques. This means using new moves or combinations of existing moves.
Judges don’t necessarily expect every move to be original, but they do want to see that the surfer is trying something different.
Variety Of Maneuvers
A great score is based on variety. Judges want to see that a surfer uses multiple moves, and doesn’t just rely on the same trick to try and pick up the points.
While quality is obviously still a key component, judges are more likely to give out a good score if the surfer shows they can master a range of skills. It helps create a feeling of spontaneity and shows the surfer can respond to the waves.
Combination Of Major Maneuvers
Judges are looking for combos. They want to see that the rider combines several moves together into a single maneuver. This creates an exciting display of skill and gives the impression that the surfer is really enjoying themselves.
Judges will also be looking for well-connected moves that show good flow and speed. In a way, this is what drives the sport forwards.
Speed, Power, And Flow
Surfers need to keep up with the pace of the wave and maintain control over their board. They also need to make sure that they’re moving effectively.
Speed is key to both of these things. Surfers need to show both speed of movement and speed of thought.
Flow relates to the artistry of surfing. Judges look for the way a surfer controls their body while riding the wave, and connects moves.
There should be no jerky maneuvers, and the rider should remain smooth and fluid throughout their performance.
Finally: power. Judges want to see the force behind the maneuver and see that the surfer is pushing for control.
All in all, there are three main components to a good score. These include commitment, innovation, and variety. However, there are other factors that influence the final score as well.
How Does Competitive Olympic Surfing Work?
Surfing at the Olympics takes place over several rounds. First, there are the initial heats. Each heat consists of four riders.
The top two finishers from each heat advance to the third round, while the bottom two compete in a repêchage round, and six more advance.
In the third round, the surfers compete head-to-head. The winner of each heat advances to the quarterfinals. The other goes home.
In the quarterfinals, eight surfers compete in four head-to-head rounds. The winner advances, while the other is eliminated.
The top four compete in the semi-finals. The winning two advance to the gold medal match, while the other two go to the bronze medal match.
Scoring in Olympic surfing rewards a combination of technical skill, innovation, and artistry. The scores also depend on wave selection and smart thinking.
A winning surfer responds to conditions, pushes for excellence, and demonstrates an innate understanding of the unpredictable nature of waves. It’s tough, but doing so just might net you the perfect score.