September 6, 2022

Scoring into the Olympics: Surfing

By Clair Baker

How is surfing scored? In recent years, surfing has grabbed a foothold in the Summer Olympics. Though it is not an Olympic year, the sport of surfing is heavily on our minds during this week of the WSL finals, and we are going to get into the nitty-gritty of how athletes in such a niche sport score their way into the Olympics, as well as why the International Olympics Committee fulfilled the long overdue request of adding surf to the Games.

How It’s Scored

Surfing is scored by a panel that consists of five judges who score on a scale of 1-10. Every wave that is surfed by the athlete in their given heat, varying between 20 and 35 minutes, receives a score. The judge's highest and lowest scores are thrown out on each wave and the surfer receives an average score of the three remainings. At the end of the heat, the surfers' two highest scores from every wave surfed are combined to give them a total score - 20 points being the highest; a perfect ride.

As viewers, we are always in awe of what these athletes are capable of doing on the water, but the judges have a more critical eye and a variety of what they are looking for on the water. This includes, commitment and degree of difficulty, innovative and progressive maneuvers, variety of maneuvers, a combination of major maneuvers, as well as speed, power, and flow with a range of scores from 0.00 to 1.90 > Poor Wave Ride to 8.00 to 10.00 > Excellent wave ride. International Surfing Association technical director Erik Krammer says, ''Everything is really connected, together all the elements of the criteria just reflect what the general public thinks is good surfing. That’s what the judges want to see, what the athletes want to see and that’s what the contest wants to see.'' Qualifying for the Olympics is determined by The World Athletics Rankings which are based on the average of the best five results for the athlete over the qualifying period.

Why Now?

The topic of introducing surfing into the Olympics has been in the conversation for over 100 years. Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian swimmer, and Olympic gold medalist was a big advocate for the sport to be added to the Olympic program. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee voted to add surfing to the program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as a way of appealing to younger viewers and fulfilling a long overdue request, and it did just that; making up 5 of the top 10 most viewed Olympic programs in Brazil during the first week of the Games. Becoming a part of the Olympics took the sport to a new level and upped the talent, drive, and exposure of these athletes; also bringing on the pressure for surfers who are now fighting for a top 20 spot in the Olympics. 

As a result of the adding surfing to the Olympics and the pandemic-inspired outdoor boom all occurring at once, outdoor activities, especially water sports, struck an interest in those wanting a way to remain active during the pandemic, and in the surf world, board sales rose a sharp 113%. 

WSL (World Surf League) surfer and Athelo Group Athlete, Brisa Hennessy, has first-hand experience with the pressures of scoring into the Olympics as she competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Clenching her spot in the WSL women’s final five, Brisa is sitting at a #4 ranking in the world. Placing in the WSL is part of the journey for surfers with sights set on the Olympics, and though It is not yet an Olympic year, time doesn’t mean downtime. Big waves or small, these niche athletes are on the water, working toward that gold goal. 

Becoming an Olympian is one of the top goals for many professional surfers, and after 100 years of fighting for a spot, they are facing their next opportunity in Tahiti; surfing at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. This next round of games means large opportunities for athletes to develop and spotlight their personal brand. As surfing in the Olympics debuted, the new Olympians made their mark in the media. These Games were referred to by some as “the most inclusive Olympics ever” and the “TikTok Games.” Major sharing platforms where athletes could give their audience a behind-the-scenes look into the Games initiated a huge spark in viewers, pulling them into the content and feeling as if they were a part of the experience. The Olympic year is the window in which these surfers have all eyes on them and they can share their personal brand and their story with the whole world. With two more years of social media evolution between now and then, we can’t wait to see what the next Olympic Games will bring.

Sources:

  1. https://olympics.com/en/news/surfing-explained-how-the-new-olympic-sport-is-judged
  2. https://www.surfertoday.com/surfing/how-surfing-is-scored
  3. https://kooksonlysurf.com/how-surfing-is-scored-in-competitions/
  4. https://olympics.com/en/news/miguel-pupo-courtney-conlogue-wsl-tahiti-pro-brisa-hennessy-finals
  5. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2021/07/21/surfing-new-sport-tokyo-summer-olympics/5263423001/
  6. https://www.straitstimes.com/sport/olympics-surfing-skating-boosts-viewership-lack-of-fans-has-zero-impact-says-ioc
  7. https://www.edelman.com/insights/olympics-firsts-what-brands-can-learn-tokyo-games

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