Surfing Championships & Competition

Surfing competitions have a big hand in both the progression and popularization of the sport. Here’s a look at the history of the modern surf competition and some of the past surfing champs, as well as the future of surf competition with its debut in the Olympics in 2020.

History of Modern Surf Competition

Surf competition took a little while to find its groove – changing hands between organizations in the early years beginning in 1964.

  • 1964 to 1972: The International Surfing Federation (ISF), which later became the International Surfing Association (ISA) held the World Surfing Championships, which consisted of single events each year.
  • 1973 to 1975: The Smirnoff Word Pro-Am Surfing Championships took over for crowning the world surfing champs at another single event competition format.
  • 1976 to 1982: The International Professional Surfers (IPS) established the first world tour format to determine the world champion. It held man-to-man heat events in Hawaii, Australia, South Africa, and California.
  • 1983 to 2014: The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) broke off from the IPS to establish and refine what has become known as the world tour today – elite surfers competing in some of the best waves around the world. The ASP World Tour really helped bring surfing to the mainstream.
  • 2015 to Present: The ASP was bought in 2013 and renamed in 2015 to the World Surf League (WSL).

How Do WSL Surfing Competitions Work?

The WSL has 2 tiers of ranking systems for its surf competitions – the Qualifying Series (QS) and the Championship Tour (CT).

Results from the QS are used to qualify surfers into the Championship Tour in the following year.

The WSL Championship Tour events work by taking the top 34 ranked men and top 17 ranked women and having them compete in different locations throughout the year (11 events for men, 10 for women).

Since 2019 events follow a 3-surfer and head-to-head heat format. With winners of first round heats advancing directly to Round 3.

Surfers are scored on the total of their 2 best waves (formerly 3) of their heat.

How is Surfing Scored?

Waves are scored on a 0-10 scale by a panel of 5 judges. The highest and lowest judge scores are thrown out and the remaining 3 scores are averaged to give the final score for a wave.

Waves are judged on:

  • Level of difficulty.
  • Progression.
  • Combination and variety of maneuvers.
  • Speed, power, and flow.

The judging criteria is as follows:

  • 0.0 — 1.9: Poor
  • 2.0 — 3.9: Fair
  • 4.0 — 5.9: Average
  • 6.0 — 7.9: Good
  • 8.0 — 10.0: Excellent

ISA surfing competitions follow a similar format as WSL competition.

Surfing in the Olympics

The ISA was officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1997.

During the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics, the IOC announced surfing would be included as an Olympic sport.

The 2020 Olympics will include 40 total surfers, a maximum of 2 men and 2 women from each National Olympic Committee.

The hierarchy of qualifications for national teams are as follows:

  • First 10 men and first 8 women from the 2019 WSL Championship Tour.
  • First 3 men and first 6 women from the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games.
  • First 4 men and first 4 women from the 2019 ISA World Surfing Games.
  • First man and first women from the 2019 Pan American Games.
  • At least one slot for a man and women from the host nation is guaranteed.

The 2020 Olympic surfing event will be held at Shidashita Beach, located about 40 miles outside of Tokyo. The even will have a 16-day waiting period.

The event will take a 4-surfer heat format, with the top two surfers from each round advancing with the total of their top two waves. Scoring criteria will follow a similar format to that of WSL and ISA competitions.

Surfing Competitions

WSL Surfing Competitions include:

  • WSL Championship Tour (CT)
  • WSL Qualifying Series (QS)
  • WSL Longboarding Championships
  • WSL Junior Championships
  • WSL Big Wave Tour

ISA Surfing Competitions include:

  • ISA World Surfing Games
  • ISA World Junior Surfing Championships
  • ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships
  • ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championships
  • ISA World Longboard Championships
  • ISA World Bodyboard Championships
  • ISA World Masters Surfing Championship
  • ISA World Kneeboard Championship

WSL Surfing Championship Tour Winners

YearEventMen’s ChampionWomen’s Champion
2018WSL CTGabriel Medina (BRA)Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2017WSL CTJohn John Florence (HAW)Tyler Wright (AUS)
2016WSL CTJohn John Florence (HAW)Tyler Wright (AUS)
2015WSL CTAdriano de Souza (BRA)Carissa Moore (HAW)
2014ASP World TourGabriel Medina (BRA)Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2013ASP World TourMick Fanning (AUS)Carissa Moore (HAW)
2012ASP World TourJoel Parkinson (AUS)Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2011ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Carissa Moore (HAW)
2010ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2009ASP World TourMick Fanning (AUS)Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2008ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2007ASP World TourMick Fanning (AUS)Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2006ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Layne Beachley (AUS)
2005ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Chelsea Georgeson (AUS)
2004ASP World TourAndy Irons (HAW)Sofia Mulanovich (PER)
2003ASP World TourAndy Irons (HAW)Layne Beachley (AUS)
2002ASP World TourAndy Irons (HAW)Layne Beachley (AUS)
2001ASP World TourC. J. Hobgood (USA)Layne Beachley (AUS)
2000ASP World TourSunny Garcia (HAW)Layne Beachley (AUS)
1999ASP World TourMark Occhilupo (AUS)Layne Beachley (AUS)
1998ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Layne Beachley (AUS)
1997ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Lisa Andersen (USA)
1996ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Lisa Andersen (USA)
1995ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Lisa Andersen (USA)
1994ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Lisa Andersen (USA)
1993ASP World TourDerek Ho (HAW)Pauline Menczer (AUS)
1992ASP World TourKelly Slater (USA)Wendy Botha (AUS)
1991ASP World TourDamien Hardman (AUS)Wendy Botha (AUS)
1990ASP World TourTom Curren (USA)Pam Burridge (AUS)
1989ASP World TourMartin Potter (UK)Wendy Botha (AUS)
1988ASP World TourBarton Lynch (AUS)Freida Zamba (USA)
1987/88ASP World TourDamien Hardman (AUS)Wendy Botha (RSA)
1986/87ASP World TourTom Curren (USA)Freida Zamba (USA)
1985/86ASP World TourTom Curren (USA)Freida Zamba (USA)
1984/85ASP World TourTom Carroll (AUS)Freida Zamba (USA)
1983/84ASP World TourTom Carroll (AUS)Kim Mearig (USA)
1982IPS World CircuitMark Richards (AUS)Debbie Beacham (USA)
1981IPS World CircuitMark Richards (AUS)Margo Oberg (HAW)
1980IPS World CircuitMark Richards (AUS)Margo Oberg (HAW)
1979IPS World CircuitMark Richards (AUS)Lynn Boyer (HAW)
1978IPS World CircuitWayne Bartholomew (AUS)Lynn Boyer (HAW)
1977IPS World CircuitShaun Tomson (RSA)Margo Oberg (HAW)
1976IPS World CircuitPeter Townend (AUS)
1975Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surfing ChampionshipsMark Richards (AUS)
1974Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surfing ChampionshipsReno Abellira (USA)
1973Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surfing ChampionshipsIan Cairns (AUS)
1972ISF World Surfing Championships – San DiegoJames Blears (USA)Sharon Webber (USA)
1970ISF World Surfing Championships – Tourquay, AustraliaRolf Aurness (USA)Sharon Webber (USA)
1968ISF World Surfing Championships – Rincon, Puerto RicoFred Hemmings (USA)Margo Godfrey (USA)
1966ISF World Surfing Championships – San DiegoNat Young (AUS)Joyce Hoffman (USA)
1965ISF World Surfing Championships – Punta Rocas, PeruFelipe Pomar (PER)Joyce Hoffman (USA)
1964ISF World Surfing Championships – Manly, AustraliaMidget Farrelly (AUS)Phyllis O’Donnell (AUS)
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