Never Watched Competitive Surfing? Here's Your Guide to One of the Newest Olympic Events

Amanda Prahl
·2 min read
NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 10: Four-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii surfing in Heat 3 of the Semifinals of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona on April 10, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Cait Miers/World Surf League via Getty Images)
NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 10: Four-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii surfing in Heat 3 of the Semifinals of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona on April 10, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Cait Miers/World Surf League via Getty Images)

Surfing will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer, so if you want to feel like an expert while watching the Games, now is the perfect time to learn how the competition is structured and scored. Fortunately, you don't need to take any surf lessons to find answers - we've got you covered with a complete guide to how Olympic judges score these impressive stunts.

How Is Surfing Scored?

In order to encompass all the different elements of the sport, a panel of judges scores surfers based on several different components, similar to sports like gymnastics or figure skating. According to the Olympic Channel, surfing is scored based on five criteria:

  1. Commitment and degree of difficulty, which is determined by the types of moves that athletes perform, how risky they are, and how well the athletes utilize the potential of each wave.

  2. Innovative and progressive maneuvers, which reflects how creative and innovative the athlete's specific moves are.

  3. Variety of maneuvers, which rewards athletes for mixing it up, rather than doing too much of the same thing.

  4. Combination of major maneuvers, which reflects how well the "big" stunts are connected to one another.

  5. Speed, power, and flow, which is also pretty self explanatory. Judges look at how fast a surfer is moving and adapting to changing waves, how they're pushing for their moves, and how well it all flows together.

How Is the Olympic Surfing Event Structured?

According to the Olympic Channel's scoring breakdown, a panel of five judges will score each wave that a surfer catches, on a scale of one to 10 with two decimal places. For each wave, the highest and lowest scores are discarded, and the remaining three are averaged. At the end of a heat, each surfer's two highest-scoring waves are combined for a total; a "perfect" heat would be 20 points, or two waves earning perfect 10s.

Four athletes can be surfing at any given time during a heat, although it hasn't yet been clarified publicly how the Olympic athletes will be seeded or grouped. The top two of each heat advance to the next, until the winner and other medalists have been determined. We can't wait to see the talented surfers competing at this year's Olympics!

To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics this summer on NBC.