How Does Scoring Work In Surfing?

How Does Scoring Work In Surfing

Competitive surfing is a sport in which participants ride waves one at a time and then are judged on their abilities. The judges rank the surfers in the competition using a system of points. Points are awarded in slightly different ways depending on the competition’s governing body. Scoring in surfing is based on an overall assessment of the competence with which the rider navigated the wave. The three main governing bodies of surfing are the World Surf League (WSL), the Olympics, and the International Surfing Association (ISA). Each has its own scoring system, outlined below.

WSL and Olympic Scoring

The WSL event scoring system features two-to-four surfers trying to lock in their two highest point-value waves. Each of these waves is scored out of 10, for a possible total of 20 points in the heat total. Surfers may try as many waves as they like during the allotted time, but only the two highest-scoring rides count toward the heat total. Riders with the highest heat totals will advance to the next round of competition. There are typically four to 10 rounds depending on the number of riders participating.

The scores out of 10 are determined by a group of five judges, where the highest and lowest scores produced by the group of judges are discarded, and the remaining three scores are averaged to produce the final wave score. Scores may feature up to two decimal places.

The WSL cites five categories that the judges consider, which are:

  • Commitment and Difficulty
  • Innovative and Progressive Maneuvers
  • Combination of Major Maneuvers
  • Variety of Maneuvers
  • Speed, Power, and Flow

The Championship Tour also features an aggregate scoring system. In this system, the top performer in an event (based on the event scoring system) is awarded 10,000 points. Surfers placing lower will receive progressively lower point totals. At the end of the season, the surfer with the most points is named Tour Champion. Olympic surfing operates under the same scoring system as the WSL.

WSL and Olympic Surfing Penalties

In WSL and Olympic scoring, surfers may lose points for various reasons, which include:


This penalty occurs when a rider interferes with another surfer’s ability to catch a wave or score points. The surfer will lose the points associated with their second-highest-scoring wave.

Priority Interference

Priority interference occurs when a surfer interferes with the priority order. Priority order is set at the start of the heat and essentially determines who has the right to catch waves first if there is an opportunity that multiple surfers would like to take. This results in the interfering surfer losing the points associated with their highest-scoring wave.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

This penalty is assessed when a surfer is seen disrespecting officials or other competitors. This can include obscene or derogatory gestures and swearing. The penalty can result in the loss of one of the rider’s wave scores or a fine, at the discretion of the judges.

Late Take-Off

This penalty is given if a surfer begins their ride when the wave has already begun to break. Late take-off usually means that the surfer will not have their score counted for the wave on which they took off late.

Incomplete Ride

This penalty occurs when a surfer falls off of their board while riding a wave or otherwise fails to ride the wave to completion. Similar to late take-off, a rider with an incomplete ride will lose any points they would have earned for the ride which was incomplete.

ISA Scoring

ISA scoring is notably different from the system described above. The ISA scores waves on a 20-point scale. Each wave is evaluated with a more subjective blend of maneuvers, speed, power, and flow. Points are not awarded overall, but are given for each maneuver the rider successfully executes. This incentivizes aggressive and innovative surfing, with ISA riders trying new maneuvers routinely.

The ISA also features a priority system designed to ensure each rider has the same chance of catching a wave suitable to demonstrate their abilities. The surfer’s two highest-scoring waves are still added together to determine the rider’s heat score. ISA contests take place in rounds as well, with riders achieving the highest heat scores advancing to the next round. Finally, ISA surfers can also be part of teams, where their score contributes to the overall score of the team.

ISA Surfing Penalties

ISA surfing penalties are the same as in WSL competitions, except for the added penalty of dangerous surfing. This penalty is given if a rider engages in reckless or dangerous behavior that is seen by the judges as putting the rider or others at unnecessary risk. Depending on the judges’ assessment of the severity of the offense, the rider can be warned, lose one of their wave scores, or be disqualified from the competition entirely.


How do you score points in surfing?

Points in surfing are scored by demonstrating surfing ability in executing complex maneuvers with speed, power, and flow. Riders generally have multiple chances to catch a wave and demonstrate their abilities, and only their best wave scores will count toward their heat score. Scoring high heat scores will allow riders to progress into the later rounds of the competition. Although scoring systems differ depending on the officiating body of the surfing competition, the goal and format of the sport remain largely the same from the perspective of the rider.