Rules and Regulations

The World Surf League (WSL), coordinates the annual tour of professional surf competitions including the men's and women's Championship Tours (CT), the Qualifying Series (QS), the Longboard Championships, the Junior Championships, the Big Wave Tour and the XXL Big Wave Awards.

There aren't too many complicated rules in professional surfing, but we do have a few that are worth getting to know as you watch the sport. The rules are in place to ensure the safety of the athletes, the fairness of competition and, ultimately, to promote the best surfing on the planet in the arena of live competition.

  • Judging and Points
  • Rankings
  • Priority
  • Interference
  • Heat restart
  • Doping and drug use

Below we'll describe the basics and for those who want to really dig into every detail, please feel free to download the full rulebook linked at the bottom of this page. Note the following do not apply to the XXL Big Wave Awards.

Judging and Points
Events are comprised of rounds and those rounds are made up of heats with anywhere from two-to-four surfers looking to lock in their two highest-scoring waves -- both out of a possible 10 points for a possible 20-point heat total. A panel of five judges scores each wave on a scale of one to ten. For every scoring ride, the highest and lowest scores (of the five judges) are discounted and the surfer receives the average of the remaining three scores. There is no limit on the number of waves that will be scored, but the two best scoring waves (each out of a possible 10) are added together to become a surfer's heat total (out of a possible 20).

Judges analyze the following elements when scoring waves (not for Longboard or BWT Events):

  • Commitment and degree of difficulty
  • Innovative and progressive maneuvers
  • Combination of major maneuvers
  • Variety of maneuvers
  • Speed, power and flow

Judging scale:
[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]

After each event surfers are awarded points based on their respective placing and the better they perform, the more points they get. For example, on the Championship Tour (CT), first place gets 10,000 points, second place gets 8,000 points and so on. These points are added together to create the CT Rankings. At the end of the year, the male and female surfers at the top of the Rankings will become the WSL Champions.

The surfer with priority has the unconditional right of way to catch any wave they choose. Other surfers in the heat can paddle for, and catch, the same wave, but only if they do not hinder the scoring potential of a surfer with priority. A surfer loses priority once they catch a wave and/or a surfer paddles for but misses a wave. If two or more surfers catch a wave, the first surfer to make it to the take-off zone will get priority.

A surfer who hinders the scoring potential of a surfer with priority over them will be given an interference penalty. In most situations, this means that their heat score will be calculated using only their best scoring wave. Except for BWT, if a surfer causes two interferences during a heat they will be disqualified from the heat.

Heat Restart
Except for BWT, if no one catches a wave during the first 10 minutes of a heat then the Head Judge has the power to restart the heat.

The full Rule Book can be downloaded here.

Anti-doping Policy
The WSL's Anti-Doping Policy was instituted in 2012 and you can view it here. The policy covers use of both performance-enhancing and illicit substances and applies to surfers and their support staff. WSL tour staff are also bound by the Policy.