The world of professional surfing has proven subject to the whims of nature, with each surfer going up against any number of sudden changes; the swell can carry you to victory, or it can swallow your chances of a good score in seconds. As a result, the best surfer is not always the one to take home the prize. The water is not the only variable these athletes take into account, however, as surf competitions judges use a set of criteria developed by the World Surf League (WSL).
To gain a higher score, surfers compete according to these five concepts, called the WSL Judging Key Concepts:
- Commitment and Degree of Difficulty
- Innovative and Progressive Maneuvers
- Combination of Major Maneuvers
- Variety of Maneuvers
- Speed, Power, and Flow
Because the weather and location vary by competition, some factors become more or less relevant on particular days. This creates a level of fairness that rewards the competitors for the things they can control during a heat, like personal skills and attributes. Judges look for those who are going above and beyond in every aspect to compete to the best of their ability.
Judges look at much more than just these fundamental concepts, however. Each wave is different, presenting new opportunities for a surfer to make or break their heat. Pros receive a score based on how many maneuvers they can fit into a set amount of time, their category and level of surf skill, the type of wave they took on, and wave quality on that day. On an even more intimate level, these athletes compete for points based on their aesthetic, the variety of moves, length of ride, and level of expertise at specific maneuvers. Because the ever-changing ocean makes the rules, the scales adjust according to the swell.
Finally, the competitors receive a numerical score. This scale is a decimal value, from 0.0, or Poor, to 10.0, or Excellent. These rules and regulations are constant in both Championship Tours and Qualifying Series and do not change in different countries or competitions, except for the weather and particular conditions presented on the day of competition.