Rich Porta has served as the International Head Judge for the Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour since 2010. He has been a surfing judge for 17 years, so we thought we'd check in with him to see what goes on in the tower.
There was a considerable amount of controversy following the 2011 Rio Pro Quarterfinal in which Adriano De Souza (BRA) defeated Owen Wright (AUS). Subsequent explanations dealt with the risks De Souza took. What kind of risk are the judges looking for going into this year's Rio Pro? Over the course of the last several years, there's been a significant evolution in the performances of the men and women on tour. The institution of aerial maneuvers has been one component of this - once utilized only at the end of the wave with minimal risk associated with it, we now have surfers executing aerials in the most critical sections of the wave and early on, showcasing the risk but also the function of the maneuver and incorporating them into their repertoires at most venues. Of course, the aerial is only one component of this progression - we've seen enhancements in rail and power surfing, tube-riding and combinations of maneuvers. The level has been lifted at an astounding pace.
Should surfers be looking for certain kinds of waves, different kinds than they would have in the past? Or should they focus less on the kind of wave than they should how to maximize the risk of whatever wave they ride? With regards to wave selection, we're dealing with the best surfers on the planet and they certainly know which waves are best from venue to venue--as does the ASP Judging Panel. They're looking for opportunity to perform, so generally the bigger and steeper set waves will allow this. Not always the case, mind you, as conditions vary from venue to venue and day to day. Occasionally, the "biggest" wave is not necessarily the "best" in terms of opportunity - it may not hit the reef or sandbar correctly and get fat or closeout.
How much of the criteria is venue-based? Knowing the conditions in Rio, do you have an idea of what you'll be looking for during competition? Can you anticipate what will be get bigger scores specifically in Rio? Different parts of the judging criteria are emphasized at certain venues and can even shift from round to round at the same venue depending on the conditions. For example, a barrel at Teahupoo is going to score much higher than a barrel at Lower Trestles. Teahupoo is all about commitment in the critical part of the wave and successfully surfing the biggest barrels the deepest. Lower Trestles is a performance-based wave that allows for a variety of maneuvers, both traditional and progressive. While the barrel may not score as high at Lower Trestles, aerial maneuvers and turns certainly do. So again, it depends on the wave as well as the conditions on the day. With Rio de Janeiro, Barra da Tijuca is a powerful, wedging beachbreak that can allow for tube rides when it's bigger but it also has sections for powerful and progressive maneuvers. We work very closely with our forecasting partners and local analysts at all events to see what kind of conditions we're in for year-to-year. This information is readily available to the surfers and we have frequent discussions with them about conditions and scoring opportunity. With surfing, you're dealing with the most dynamic field of play in all of sports--it's ever changing and you'll see surfers on site hours before their respective heats to monitor the conditions, assess the strategies of other surfers in the draw as well as see what is working and what isn't.
Do the performances at Bells factor in to how Rio will be judged? For example, is the bar raised with John John Florence (HAW) scoring a Perfect 10 in Bells? John John's Perfect 10 at Bells was awarded as it was a progressive, powerful aerial maneuver executed with speed and landed cleanly followed by a series of powerful turns. It was also done with speed, risk, height and power. It was an excellent ride already when he rode out of the maneuver, but his ability to transition into a series of power turns to finish off the wave is what made it a 10. That said, a surfer's scores or results from a previous event, or even heat, do not affect how they are judged moving forward. Every event, every heat and every wave is another opportunity to perform and they're judged on the surfing they do in the moment. We seen some impressive surfing over the last few years in Rio--deep barrels, innovative aerials and big combinations. We're looking forward to another great event this week.