December 8, 2022

Bigwave surfing competition

How the WSL Big Wave Tour works

The most prestigious surfing competition is the WSL World Tour, but the World Surfing League hosts many contests in different disciplines.

Among them is the Big Wave Tour – a series of significant wave competitions, that is, on big waves.

Today I will tell you how the World Champion is determined in the most dangerous kind of surfing. In general, I wanted to write “the most spectacular,” but everything is not so simple here, but more on that later.

History of the WSL Big Wave Tour

As with the WSL World Tour, the Bigwave World Champion is determined in a series of competitions at different spots

The extensive wave tour was first held in 2009, and since then, the number of stages and locations has changed many times.

The main difficulty is that huge waves are needed for competitions on big waves.

At the same time, there are requirements not only to the size but also to the quality of these waves, so that everything coincides; the organizers set a very long waiting period, sometimes for the whole season up to 5 months.

And even so, in some years it turns out to carry out not all the planned activities

Over the ten years of the tour’s existence, the competition took place at least once on nine spots, and two more were planned but unsuccessfully.

The most unfortunate years for WSL were 2014 and 2015 when 4 of the planned 6 and 7 stages did not occur.

But the 2016 season turned out to be the most “fat”; it was possible to hold all six events. For convenience, I have collected the data in a visual table.

It can be seen that since 2017, WSL has begun to reduce the number of tours. It is because every canceled competition is a huge loss.

In the current season, 2019-2020, only two stages were left in general – Jaws, which was held in December, and Nazare, there is a waiting period at the time of publication of the article.

A separate story with spot Mavericks

Competitions on this spot were held in 1999; it was a very prestigious Titans of Mavericks contest, in which only men could participate and exclusively by invitation.

In 2017, the organizers went bankrupt and were forced to sell the rights to host the WSL.

The league immediately announced that now the competition would be held for both men and women, and they promised equal cash prizes.

The women rejoiced, but it turned out that it was too early: neither in 2017 nor in 2018 was the competition held due to the lack of suitable conditions, and in 2019 the WSL decided to remove this stage from the tour, leaving only two events in the end.

The location on Nazar is also held only for men, so at the moment, the World Champion is determined based on a single stage on the Jaws

Who participates in the Bigwave Tour?

In general, there are not so many big levers in the world and even fewer of those who ride huge waves and want to compete.

There are currently 34 participants on the Tour: 24 men and ten women.

10 men and four women pass from the top of the ranking of last year, four men and one girl qualify through the Big Wave Awards (Bigwevers send photos and videos of their rides to this nomination during the year, and at the end of the season the winner is selected), and the organizers hand out invitations at their discretion.


The competition grid thus begins for men from the quarterfinals of 6 people and women from the semifinals of 5.

The duration of hits is 45 minutes; three surfers leave, three take off. Finals usually last an hour.

How Big Wave Competitions Are Scored

In general, the system is the same as in regular competitions: 5 judges give their marks on a 10-point scale.

The largest and smallest are removed, and the arithmetic mean of the remaining three is taken. It is done to exclude the possibility of narrowing, both upward and downward.

The two best waves of a surfer for a race are counted, but there is a nuance that distinguishes big waves from regular competitions: the points for the best wave are doubled

Thus, the maximum score for a hit can be 30 points. Why are points being doubled?

The fact is that big wave competitions are complex, and it so happens that a surfer was able to drive only one wave per hit, but then a bomb.

Moreover, doubling the score allows him to compete with rivals.

It, for example, happened this year in the women’s final: the first and second places were taken by surfers who rode the same wave

And now for the fun part: how is the toll rate set? And here I return to the entertainment mentioned at the beginning. Comparing big waves and surfing is a thankless task.

Top surfers compete in maneuvers as part of the World Tour, and scores are given accordingly: for radicalism, progressiveness, and smoothness of many tricks.

But, on the other hand, in surfing on enormous waves, in most cases, we are not talking about maneuvers, what kind of catback or snap is there when a three-story house falls on you
What, then, should the judges focus on besides the size of the wave? It turns out that they are guided by the following rule: “The surfer who shows the most confidence on the largest and most intense waves with an emphasis on maneuvering will receive the highest scores.”

That is, the point is not just to make the most significant wave but to drive it as if it were a trifling matter for you.

Who becomes the World Champion?

Bigwave Tour has a standard WSL rating system. Depending on the surfer’s position within one stage, he is awarded a certain number of points.

At the end of the season, the points gained from all backgrounds are added up, and the surfer with the highest total becomes the World Champion

But even here, bigwevers have a nuance. Not all waves are equally significant, some can be very large, so there is an exceptional Wave Ratio in Bigwave Tour.

The minimum competition size is 25 feet (7 meters).

If the waves within the stage were near the lower boundary of 25-35 feet (7-10 meters), then 10,000 points are awarded for the first place, for each subsequent one 20% less, that is, for the second 8.333 points, for the third 6.944 points, and so on.

If the waves in the competition were more giant, from 35 to 45 feet (10-14 meters), then the points are increased by 25%

The stage winner receives 12.500 points, 10.416 points are given for second place, 8.680 points for the third, and so on.

If the competition is held on huge waves over 45 feet (from 15 meters), then the scores are increased by another 25% from the previous level.

For the first place, 15.625 points, the second 13.020, and the third 10.850.

Above is a complete scoring table. If you are embarrassed that a few numbers are missing, surfers who fly out of the quarterfinals or semifinals seem to occupy the same place and get the same score: two people in 7, 9, and 11 businesses, four people in 13, 17, and 21.

Knowing these scores, it is interesting to look at the final Tour rating table.

Take 2017, for example

Bigwave Tour winner Billy Kemper scored 27.140 points: 5.787 = 4th place in the 25-35 feet stage + 13.020 = 2nd place in the 45+ feet stage + 8.333 = 2nd place in the 25-35 feet stage.

Second place went to Kai Lenny with 24.829 points: 10.000 = 1st place in the stage with waves of 25-35 feet + 9.042 = 4th place in the background with waves of 45+ feet + 5.757 = 4th place in the scene with waves of 25-35 feet.

Third place went to Ian Walsh with 17.757 points: 15.625 = 1st place in the stage with waves of 45+ feet + 2.132 = 9th place in the background with waves of 25-35 feet.

It is noteworthy that Ian, who participated in only two stages in the final ranking, bypassed a surfer named Makuakai Rothman, who has 14.123 points: 3.070 = 7th place in a location with waves of 25-35 feet + 10.850 = 3rd place in a stage with waves of 45+ feet + 203 = 21 sites in the 25-35 ft wave stage.

That is, a victory in one, but the most potent stage brought him $ 13,000 more than his closest rival.

The current situation with Bigwave Tour

Everything written above is beautiful and exciting, but unfortunately, it refers more to history than the current state of affairs

This year, the WSL big wave surfing competition is no longer a tour at all – the organizers have left only two stages.

Only one of them, Hawaii on Jaws, is held among surfers who paddle the waves on their own, and this year there will be competitions on Nazare by to-in when surfers are driven into waves by jet.

In addition, WSL added the so-called Strike Missions format: special correspondents will travel to forecast big wave spots worldwide and take pictures of riding surfers.

They called the whole thing Big Wave Platform

The press release states: “This evolution of our approach to big wave surfing will allow us to capture the highlights of the year and popularize big wave surfing by continually delivering new and fresh content to fans around the world.”

You can read the following between the lines: The World Surfing League is expensive, and difficult to find sponsors for events that most likely may not occur.

Such big players are constantly forced to maneuver between politics and commerce, and often decisions are not made in favor of ordinary surfers.

Nevertheless, the guys are doing what they can, and let’s hope that all the cool bigwevers will receive their awards and will be able to impress us with their achievements further!