OBJECTIVE OF SURFING: Score more points than the competitor(s) by impressing judges with complex maneuvers, excellent technique, and riding the tallest waves possible.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2-4 surfers per heat; 32-36 surfers in a full tournament

MATERIALS: Surfboard (with fins), wetsuit, surfboard leash, surf wax


AUDIENCE: 5+; no standardized age requirement


Surfing, a sport that sees man attempt to tame violent ocean waves, has long held a reputation for being an awe-inspiring sport. Although many people can attest they’ve playfully tried riding a wave back to shore in the past, few understand how the sport of surfing turns this pastime activity into a full-blown competitive event!


Surfing competitions are commonly held on beaches known for producing tall waves. Occasionally, these tall waves result from the construction of artificial reefs.

Optimal surfing locations require adequate space for judges and spectators to line the shore while providing enough ocean space for multiple surfers to catch waves simultaneously.



Different competitions employ varying competitive formats. The World Surfing League (WSL), the world’s leading governing body of the sport, operates within an entire “regular” season accompanied by a unique playoff format that pits the top surfers of the season against each other. 

Traditionally, surfing is a sport that determines a victor utilizing a single-elimination tournament bracket. Often, these competitions include thirty-two surfers, pitting individuals against each other in one-on-one action to determine who moves on to the following round.

In other cases, such as in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, earlier tournament rounds consist of multiple heats of 4-5 surfers, with the top 2-3 surfers in each heat advancing. This specific competition, which saw surfing make its Olympic debut as a summer sport, transitioned to the typical two-surfer heats when only sixteen athletes remained.


In surfing, each heat of competitors is allotted 20-35 minutes to rack up points. During this time, each competing surfer can catch as many waves as necessary, with judges scoring each attempt. However, only the two best attempts are counted for each surfer.

Scoring is left in the hands of a panel of five judges. The highest and lowest judge scores are discarded, with the final score of an athlete’s surf being the average of the three middle values.

Judges score a surf on a scale of 0.1–10, with ten being a perfect score. Since only the surfer’s two best attempts are counted, a combined score of twenty is considered a perfect round.

Judges rate surf attempts based on the following factors, per the official Olympics rulebook:

  1. Degree of difficulty
  2. Innovation and progressive maneuvers
  3. Variety of maneuvers
  4. Combination of major maneuvers
  5. Speed, power, and flow

This scoring criterion is in place to ensure surfers are consistently attempting more challenging tricks, innovative combinations of moves, and utilizing flawless fundamentals.


You can’t talk about the alluring sport of surfing without mentioning some of mother nature’s wildest surf conditions!

On October 29th, 2020, German surfer Sebastian Steudtner successfully surfed the tallest wave ever surfed, measuring 86 feet in height. Later confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records, this record bests the previous record of 80 feet.

Steudtner achieved these feats at Praia do Norte, a beach in Nazaré, Portugal. The previous record holders of 80 feet (Rodrigo Koxa) and 78 feet (Garrett McNamara) also surfed the waves at this beach. Thanks to a massive offshore canyon, Praia do Norte has been known to produce the largest waves ever seen. It is thought that this beach will eventually host the world’s first official surf of a 100-foot wave.


Every surfing tournament culminates in a final round featuring the two best surfers in the competition. The resultant victor is the athlete with the highest combined score of their two best attempts.