Competition Rules

The Venue:

Typical – a beach break with multiple random peaks


As a competitor you will be scored by a panel of judges.  The role of a judge in a surfing contest is to decide which surfer performs the closest to the “Judging Criteria” in any heat. The fundamental importance of the criteria is that each judge understands what he is looking for from the surfers, and each surfer knows the points on which he is going to be judged.

The Judging Criteria:

A surfer must execute the most radical controlled maneuvers in the critical section of a wave with speed and power throughout. The surfer who executes such maneuvers on the biggest and or best waves for the longest functional distance shall be given higher scores.

  • The criteria has purposely been broken into two sentences. The first being the major emphasis of the criteria, concerns the maneuvers, how radical and controlled they are and the section of the wave they are performed on.
  • Wave selection is the single most important factor for a surfer in their heat. The waves they select will determine the maneuvers they are able to perform. Today, there is less emphasis put on wave size in small and medium conditions due to the fact that the best waves may not necessarily be the biggest.
  • It is extremely important to note that wave selection (size or quality) does not automatically score high. A surfer must comply with the first sentence of the criteria and wave selection to receive the higher score!

What the judges consider when scoring:

  • The competitors earn the higher scores by performing the higher quality maneuvers. Generate speed and show power throughout the execution.
  • The judges look at what the competitors are doing right – not for their mistakes. This will prevent the judges from holding down scores on good and excellent waves. Maneuvers must be completed 100% in order to score.
  • The judges will reward good and excellent surfing with good (6.0 to 7.5) and excellent (8.0 – 10.0).
  • The judges will not reward poor surfing. Competitors may surf poorly on quality waves for a long distance, however the fact remains – it’s still poor surfing no matter how long the ride. Judges are looking for quality not quantity.

Interference Criteria:

The surfer deemed to have inside position for a wave has unconditional right of way for the entire duration of that ride. Interference will be called if during that ride, a majority of judges feel that a fellow competitor has possibly hindered the scoring potential of that surfer deemed to have the right of way for that wave. Anyone who stands up in front of a surfer with the right of way has the chance to ride or kick out of the wave without being called for interference, unless he hinders the scoring potential of the surfer with ROW, and the interference should be called. Note: Interference calls will be announced immediately during heat. Important considerations: The venue is a beach break with multiple random peaks.

Where there is one peak with two directions:

  • At the initial point of take off concentration on the shape of the wave and the position of the surfers on the peak.
  • The direction with the greatest scoring potential should have the “ROW”. If neither direction has greater scoring potential the surfer with the inside position at the initial point of take off has ROW.

Where there are two separate peaks that eventually meet:

  • The first surfer to stand and execute a maneuver has the ROW.
  • If two surfers stand at the same time and
    • they both give way so that neither hindered the other – no penalty.
    • they cross paths, collide, or hinder each other the judges will penalize the aggressor at the point of contact neither surfer gives way and both share responsibility for the confrontation then a double interference may be called.

Good advice is to avoid having more than one surfer per wave. Usually it is a lack of ability and effort that leads to an interference call. The better surfers will position themselves, read and analyze the surfing conditions and waves and gain position. Surfers here at the United States Surfing Championships are some of the best athletes in the nation. We are proud to be a part of something as special as the USSC which brings together all of this talent in Southern California.

Competition Strategy

Precontest Training

  • Time your paddleouts – every time
  • Surf a heat for the first 15 minutes of every free session
  • Over emphasize your maneuvers and length of rides especially during free surfing
  • Paddle hard, work out, drink lots of water and stay in the shade
  • Stretch every day and tune your equipment

Heat Strategy

  • Watch at least the one heat if not two heats before your own. Study how the waves are breaking; where are the sets coming in and how often; judge a heat in the sand; what does it look like from the beach
  • Check in on time
  • Do not free surf too much prior to your heat
  • Drink lots of water and stay in the shade
  • Use a watch
  • Remember only your best 3 or best 4 in a final will score
  • Try to catch the first quality wave
  • Rip hard to the beach, do not bounce or waste time milking the white water get back outside and get another set wave – go for the big maneuvers outside!
  • Outpaddle your opponent
  • Finish each wave cleanly – never fall off!
  • Always check your heat sheets. Look at what scores well for the day.
  • Do not catch too many waves – be selective and hustle into deeper positioning
  • Always be a good sport! It will come back to you! Remain positive, upbeat and wear a smile at all times; in the water, on the beach or in the parking lot! Do not complain. Positive attitudes have a way of attracting positive happenings and people. The same is true for negative ones. Be smart, be happy! Many things are beyond your control except your attitude. Why not make it a good one?
  • Win and lose like a king, be gracious, courteous – remember – surfing, after all, is the “sport of kings”

The Surfing Criteria

A surfer must execute the most radical controlled maneuvers in the critical section of a wave with speed and power throughout. The surfer who executes such maneuvers on the biggest and/or best waves for the longest functional distance shall be deemed winner.

Analysis of the Surfing Criteria

The criteria has purposely been broken into two sentences.  The first sentence being the major emphasis of the Criteria, concerns the maneuvers, how radical and controlled they are, the section of the wave they are performed on, and how they are strung together.

The criteria can be graded into four main sections:

  1. RADICAL CONTROLLED MANEUVERS: This is by far the most important part of the criteria.  Contemporary maneuvers basically constitute change of direction of the board on the wave (not the surfer on the board).  Such maneuvers would include re-entries, cut backs, floaters, aerials, tube rides, etc.  How radical they are, followed by the amount of control and commitment put into each of them, will determine how high they will score.
  2. POWER. COMMITMENT. CONTROL: It is improtant to note, even if a surfer has completed 90% of a maneuver, it will not score if he loses control and falls!
  3. MOST CRITICAL SECTION: This part of the Criteria describes the positions on the wave maneuvers should be performed to score the maximum points.
  4. THE CRITICAL SECTION OF THE WAVE IS THE “POCKET”, CLOSEST TO THE CURL: The degree of commitment and risk involved in performing a maneuver close to the curl is the reason that it scores higher.  Generally, the most critical section of a wave is the first section…”out the back” or “outside”.
  5. THE BIGGEST AND OR BEST WAVES: WAVE SELECTION IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR FOR A SURFER IN HIS HEAT.  The waves he selects will dictate the maneuvers he is able to perform.  Today there is less emphasis put on wave size in small to medium conditions due to the fact that the best waves may not necessarily be the biggest waves.
  6. LONGEST FUNCTIONAL DISTANCE :It is important to note that the functional length of a ride means the longest possible distance that can be ridden in the horizontal plane across the judges “field of vision” while performing maneuvers. Once the maneuvers end, so does the score – milking a wave or doing “spinners” on the white water does not meet the criteria.


The point scoring system to be used is zero to ten broken up into one tenth increments like this:

0 –  2.0                          BAD
2.0 –  4.0                       POOR
4.0 –  6.0                       AVERAGE
6.0 –  8.0                       GOOD
8.0 -10.0                       EXCELLENT

NOTE: Refer to this to establish first wave exchanges.

  • During the course of a heat, try to use the whole of your scale from 0 -10 regardless of surf conditions.  Score the good waves up and the bad waves down.
  • Avoid scoring higher as the heat continues.  Bear in mind the previous scoring waves.  The final wave exchange in a heat should be in context to the first waves scored in a heat.
  • It is important that a judge concentrates on the scoring of individual waves and ignores the final outcome of a heat.
  • No rides are identical, so try to differentiate between all scoring waves.
  • Do not deliberate on your scores, put pen to paper.