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  • Writer's pictureAllannah

WSL Rules & Regulations Guide

Competitive surfing is a great way to see the talent of the world's best, seeing what is possible and watching new generations take the stage, taking the sport to new levels.

But have you ever watched competitive surfing and wondered what the hell is going on?

Let us break it down for you....

The World Surf League (WSL) is the governing body for professional surfing, and it sets the rules and regulations for competitions around the world.

The following is for the WSL CT (championship tour)/ Formats and criteria differs in Longboarding & Big wave events.


The format of each event can vary, but typically it involves a series of heats, where surfers compete head-to-head in a given time period. In the early stages of competition, there are usually 3 -4 competitors in each round, with the 2 surfers with the highest wave scores advancing to the next round. The surfers who have the lowest scores then go to battle it out in an elimination round to try and stay in the competition.


Judges are looking at the surfer's ability to perform manoeuvres on a wave. Judges score each ride on a scale of 0-10. The surfer's best 2 wave scores from each heat are added together to determine their overall score.

Judges analyse the following elements when scoring waves:

  • Commitment and degree of difficulty

  • Innovative and progressive manoeuvres

  • Combination of major manoeuvres

  • Variety of manoeuvres

  • Speed, power & flow

Judging scale:

  • [0.0 — 1.9: Poor]

  • [2.0 — 4.9: Fair]

  • [5.0 — 6.4: Good]

  • [6.5 — 7.9: Very Good]

  • [8.0 — 10.0: Excellent]

Carissa Moore 3 x World Champ At Pipeline / Photo WSL - Kelly Cestari


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, first place gets 10,000 points, second place gets 7,800 points and so on. These points are added together to create the CT Rankings.


In a heat, only one surfer at a time is allowed to catch a wave, and the priority system is used to determine who has the right of way. When a surfer takes a wave, the surfer that didn't catch it then has priority for the next one that they want and the other surfer, even if in a better position, has to let them take it.


If a surfer without priority interferes with another surfer, they can receive a penalty. In most situations, this means that their heat score will be calculated using only their best scoring wave. Some competitors will use their priority as a tactic and try to get the other surfer to cause an interference so they lose points, this is seen as dirty, but it's allowed and makes for good viewing!

Gabriel Medina Using Priority Tactics On Kelly Slater / Photo WSL

Time limits

Heats typically last for 20-40 minutes, depending on the condition of the waves. There is a horn that signals the start and end of each heat. You may also see 2 heats going on at the same time to make the most of good conditions.

Heat restart

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.


Overall, the rules of WSL surfing are designed to ensure fair and safe competition, while also allowing surfers to showcase their skills and creativity on the waves.

Watch Live events and contest replays HERE!


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