Major Competitions in Surfing

For thousands of people across the world, surfing is no more than a hobby; a past-time enjoyed as a means of relieving the stress induced by their jobs and the hassles of everyday life. For some, however, the sport becomes a profession and a raison d’ĂȘtre. Those who make this commitment usually rely on cash prizes from surfing competitions and the money which can be earned through sponsorship or selling pictures to surfing magazines for their income. For all but the very best, choosing surfing as a career turns out to be an unprofitable choice. The pay-off lies in being free to indulge their passion for the sport. For the most skillful, however, large cash prizes can provide an additional incentive to enter the most challenging surfing competitions in the world. Some major surfing competitions are described below:




An exclusive annual surfing competition hosted by the surfing location which shares its name in Northern California. Each year, 24 of the best big wave surfers in the world are notified in advance that when conditions permit it, they will be summoned to compete in one of the world’s most challenging surfing competitions. When a sufficiently large swell drives the waves of Half Moon Bay up to their greatest heights, the surfers are given 24 hours to appear, and face each other in a physically and mentally demanding contest.

The invited few rarely resist the call and compete for the respect of big wave surfers across the world, and a $30,000 prize. The performance of each surfer is judged by a panel and given a score out of ten. Surfers are judged according to the size of the waves they are able to surf and the quality of their manoeuvres during the ride. Each surfer has the score corresponding to the largest wave he surfed during the competition doubled.

The World Qualifying Series (WQS)

World Qualifying Series

World Qualifying Series

The precursor to the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour. The main aim of the WQS is to select those who will be permitted to surf in the ASP World Tour. The intensity of the competition has led to it being referred to amongst surfers as "the grind". Events are held across the world throughout the year, all of which are given a rating of between one and six stars. The higher the rating of the competition, the greater the number of points surfers can obtain towards qualifying for the ASP World Tour.

The rating is determined by factors such as the difficulty of the competition and the amount of prize money offered. WQS competitions are non-exclusive, and many surfers enter each contest. At the end of the surfing season, each surfer is able to tally their final rating. Surfers will be allowed to discount their worst scores. The number of ratings they are permitted to eliminate depends upon how many events were held throughout the season. Those with the best scores are then allowed to proceed to the ASP World Tour.

The ASP World Tour

ASP World Tour

ASP World Tour

A more exclusive competition than the World Qualifying Series, as most of those given a place in either the men’s or women’s division must first beat off a substantial amount of competition in the WQS. The men’s division consists of the 45 top-rated male surfers and the women’s division consists of the best 17 female surfers. Placing highly in the WQS is not the only way to win a place on the Tour. The men’s division is made up of the top 15 WQS surfers, the top 27 from the previous year’s ASP World Tour and 3 wildcards, awarded at the discretion of the World Professional Surfers (WPS). The women’s division is made up of the top 6 WQS surfers, the top 10 from the previous Tour and 1 Wildcard.

As its name implies, the ASP World Tour is held in a number of locations across the globe. A normal season consists of ten competitions. One of the most eagerly awaited legs of the competition is the Billabong Pro competition at Teahupo’o. Surfers are judged by a panel and are awarded a score between 0 and 10. The ASP judging criteria mandates that surfers should strive to:

"…perform radical manoeuvres in the critical section of a wave with speed, power and flow to maximise scoring potential. Innovative/progressive surfing as well as a variety of repertoire (manoeuvres) will be taken into consideration when rewarding points for waves ridden. The surfer who executes this criteria with the maximum degree of difficulty and commitment on the waves shall be rewarded with the higher scores."

The points awarded should correspond to the following performances:

0-2 Poor
2-4 Fair
4-6 Average
6-8 Good
8-10 Excellent

The British Surfing Association Championships

British Surfing Association Championships

British Surfing Association Championships

Of particular interest to British and European surfers, the date and venue of the competition are both decided by the BSA Executive Committee on an annual basis. Events include the British Students Championships; British Junior Championships; British Open Championships; British Longboard Championships; British Bodyboard Championships; British Kneeboard Championships; and the British Schools Championships. A comprehensive account of the procedures and rules governing the BSA Championships can be found here. The following information is taken from the BSA website.

Competitors must be:

  • Either amateur or professional surfers.
  • Members of the BSA.
  • British passport holders.
  • All competitors are also subject to an entry fee, which varies depending upon category.

Competitors first participate in heats, during which they must ride no more than twelve waves. A competitor’s final score will usually be based upon the scores from their best two waves. The scores are determined by a panel of between three and five judges, who will award points in .1 increments to give an overall score between 0.2 and 10.

The judging criteria is based upon three fundamental elements:

  1. Radical Manoeuvres: Including cut-backs, tube rides and other manoeuvres. In order for the manoeuvre to be taken into account by the judges, it must be completed. Those scoring well will have "pushed the board to its limit".
  2. Critical Sections: In order to score highly, manoeuvres should be performed at the "critical section" of a wave, which is the steepest part of the wave, next to the lip. The location of the critical section differs depending on the nature of the wave.
  3. Speed, power, flow: These factors tend to accompany a performance in which the critical section of the wave is ridden using a high-quality manoeuvre. Surfers are judged on their ability to assess a wave, locate the critical section and ride the wave skilfully by using a variety of high-quality manoeuvres.

The Triple Crown of Surfing

Triple Crown of Surfing

Triple Crown of Surfing

A major surfing competition with a misleading title; the Triple Crown is actually comprised of four events. Each event offers the chance to win both prize money and points towards the Triple Crown competition. The events are:

  • The Quicksilver, Waimea Bay, Hawaii – This competition is held in memory of Eddie Aikau, who spent years of his life surfing and life-guarding in the Bay. The competition only takes place when the waves are a minimum of 20 feet high, to ensure that the Bay offers competitors a challenge which lives up to Waimea’s Bay as a formidable big wave surfing location.
  • The O’Neill World Cup of Surfing, Sunset Beach, Hawaii – A 6 star WQS event held annually, usually between November and December. The finalists divide a prize budget of $125 000.
  • The Vans Hawaiian Pro, Hale’iwa, Hawaii – Also a 6 star WQS event, with a $100 000 prize purse.
  • The Rip Curl Pipeline Masters, Oahu, Hawaii – Held annually on the notorious Pipeline of Hawaii’s Northern Shore. Finalists divide a $280 000 prize purse.