How does the World Surfing Championship work?

How does the World Surfing Championship work?

The history of surfing in Brazil is quite long. Some say that it started in the 40's, others 50, it had its professionalization in the 80's and finally it seems that it fell in favor of the Brazilians through the good performances of the Brazilian storm - nickname given to the very talented Brazilian generation that today competes in the World Surfing Championship (World Tour Championship), the elite of world surfing.

When I started to follow the surf, I knew who was leading the ranking and which stage I was in, but I still needed to understand the competition as a whole. How are athletes chosen? Who has a chance to win? I always wondered how does the World Surfing Championship, famous WCT?.

After the Rio de Janeiro stage, - Oi Rio Pro 2015 - won by Felipe Toledo on May 17, 2015, with an incredible party of thousands of Brazilians from everywhere, I decided to write this post to explain in detail the operation of the tour for those who finally surrendered to surfing, but still don't understand 100% of the rules.

See also: WCT's 11 surf spots, the World Surfing Championship

What is the format of the World Surfing Championship (WCT?)

The WCT (World Championship Tour) is the elite of world surfing, as if it were the World Surfing Championship, and is organized by WSL, World Surf League. It takes place every year and is played by the 34 best surfers from the previous year in a format similar to Formula 1. There are 11 events throughout the year, at least this is the forecast for 2015, and in each event surfers accumulate a score depending on your final position in the event. At the end of the year, the score of each surfer in the 11 events is added up, discarding the 2 worst scores. The best placed in the ranking is considered the world champion.

ranking is considered the world champion.

What is the format of each stage of the World Surfing Championship (WCT)?

Despite the similar format, surfing is different from tennis or formula 1, as it depends on the correct climatic conditions for a stage to occur. For this reason, the stages do not have certain dates to occur, but time windows, in which disputes are fought on the best conditions. The Rio de Janeiro 2015 stage, for example, was scheduled to take place between May 11th and 22nd, but ended on the 17th.

correct weather conditions

Each stage has 34 surfers on the tour and 2 more guests, known as wildcards. The 36 athletes compete for the long-dreamed title of the round-by-round stage, as explained below:

Round 1 (non-eliminatory)

The 36 athletes are divided into 12 heats with 3 athletes each. The winner of each heat advances to round 3 and the other two surfers compete in round 2 (recap).

Round 2 (play-offs)

The 24 athletes who did not advance directly to round 3 dispute the playoff in 12 heats of direct duels. The winner advances to round 3 and the loser leaves for the house.

Round 3 (elimination)

The 12 surfers who won round 2 join the 12 winners in round 1. As in round 2, the remaining 24 athletes are divided into 12 man-to-man heats and whoever loses is eliminated.

Round 4 (non-eliminatory)

The 12 surfers who survived round 3 are divided into 4 heats with 3 athletes each. The 4 winners are guaranteed in the quarterfinals. The 8 that do not win their heats dispute the fifth stage.

Round 5 (play-offs)

The 8 surfers who lost their heats in round 4 are divided into 4 heats of direct duels. Whoever loses is out and whoever wins advances to the quarterfinals.


The 4 winners of round 4 and the 4 winners of round 5 face each other directly in 4 heats in the quarterfinals. The winners are in the semi final and the losers are eliminated.


There are two man-to-man heats formed by the quarterfinal winners. The two winners are in the final. The two losers are eliminated in an honorable position in the stage.


The stage is decided in a direct confrontation through a man-to-man battery in the water.

The score is distributed depending on the stage at which the surfer is eliminated and works as follows:

Rules and Batteries

The batteries usually last 30 minutes, but can have this extended duration, if the sea conditions are not good, allowing surfers to have the chance to catch more waves. Surfers can catch a maximum of 15 waves per battery, with only the best two being counted in the final grade.

There is a priority system for batteries, both with 2 and 3 competitors. The surfer who first arrived outside has the priority of catching the first wave, if he wants to exercise. In this way, if the priority  surfer paddles   the wave and enters it, the other surfers must leave the wave without disturbing him. If the priority is not respected, the surfer who caused the interference will be penalized with the annulment of his second highest note, computing only one wave in the final note.

For each wave, the group of 5 judges assigns their scores according to the criteria below:

  • Commitment and degree of difficulty
  • Innovation and progression of maneuvers
  • Combination of the main maneuvers
  • Variety of maneuvers
  • Speed, power and flow
criteria below

Each judge gives his grade and the best and worst are cut. The average of the remaining 3 notes is the final note of the wave surfed by the athlete.

Scale considered when awarding grades:

[0.0 - 1.9: Poor] [2.0 - 3.9: Fair] [4.0 - 5.9: Fair] [6.0 - 7.9: Good] [8.0 - 10.0: Excellent]

Scheduled Steps for 2017

  • 1) 3/12 to 3/25 - Quick Silver Pro Gold Coast - Queensland - Australia - Current champion: Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
  • 2) 3/29 to 9/4 - Drug Aware Margaret River Pro - Western Australia - Australia - Current champion: Sebastian Zietz (AUS)
  • 3) 12/04 to 24/04 - Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach - Victoria - Australia - Current champion: Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
  • 4) 09/5 to 20/5 - Oi Rio Pro - Saquarema (RJ) - Brazil - Current champion: John John Florence (USA)
  • 5) 6/6 to 6/16 - Fiji Pro - Tavarua - Fiji Islands - Current champion: Gabriel Medina (BRA)
  • 6) 12/7 to 23/7 - Corona Jay-Bay Open - Jeffrey’s Bay - South Africa - Current champion: Mick Fanning (AUS). He came back, competed and won a year after the incident with a shark that left no injuries in the final.
  • 7) 8/11 to 8/22 - Billabong Pro Tahiti - Teahupo’o - Tahiti - Current champion: Kelly Slater (USA)
  • 8) 9/6 to 9/17 - Hurley Pro at Trestles - San Clemente (California) - United States - Current champion: Jordy Smith (AFS)
  • 9) 10/7 to 10/18 - Quiksilver Pro France - Landes - France - Current champion: Keanu Asing (USA)
  • 10) 10/20 to 10/31 - MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal - Peniche / Caiscais - Portugal - Current champion: John John Florence (USA)
  • 11) 12/8 to 12/20 - Billabong Pipe Masters - Banzai Pipeline - Hawaii - Current champion: Michel Bourez (Tahiti)

All stages of the World Surfing Championship (WCT) are broadcast live on the WSL website, free of charge, and with narration in Portuguese.

Difficulties of the World Surfing Championship (WCT)

When the world surfing championship was created, it had a clear objective: to get the best surfers in the world to ride the best waves in the world. Is this still happening today? There are controversies ... It is very debatable, for example, that the beach of Barra da Tijuca, stage until last year, has one of the best waves in the world. Or that New York, host of a stage of the event in 2011, has one of the best waves in the world.

But what do these two cities have in common? Both are central and very populous. The Oi Rio Pro event of the years when it was at the bar, showed the potential of surf marketing in Rio de Janeiro. In other words, WSL is in a difficult situation: placing more events in places like Fiji, Teahupoo or Saquarema, with perfect waves, but isolated from the world? Or  in Rio de Janeiro   and New York, with medium waves, but a lot of publicity? This is certainly one of the great agendas that are discussed year after year within the WSL.

Shark “attack” live in the Jay-Bay Open final

Another problem that the World Surfing Championship experienced in 2015 and that was unprecedented in history was the first live shark “attack” in the Jay-Bay Open final. A 2.5m white shark approached three-time world surfer Mick Fanning and something very bad could have happened if the boy had given the famous test bite. Thanks to God, nothing happened and the athlete left 100% unscathed from the interaction with the animal, that's why the quotes are in attack.

The South African stage is not the only one subject to a shark attack. We know that Australia, with 3 stages, California, with 1 stage, and Hawaii, with 1 stage, are places with attacks at least annually. WSL discusses ways to prevent surfers from attacks, either with the shark shield, known as shark repellant, which emits electromagnetic waves in the water, or with nets, boats and divers, but the feeling is that they are waiting something more serious happens before they are more incisive about it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the format of the World Surfing Championship, and how are winners determined in the competition?
The World Surfing Championship typically follows a format of multiple rounds, including heats, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals. Surfers are scored based on their performance and wave selection, with winners determined by the highest cumulative scores.

Comments (4)

 2016-03-31 -  hp
Very enlightening, good text!
 2016-03-31 -  Filippo Ghermandi
@hp. Thank you, hp!
 2016-04-15 -  Andy Alves
@Filippo Ghermandi. Filippo Help me, please, help me in this. Suppose a project requires an investment of R $ 12,000.00, made in two monthly steps, of R $ 6,000.00: one month after the start of activities. Two Months after THIS First Occurrence considers, in addition, that the Project offers returns to the FINALS of its Development (No. 6 MONTH) of R $ 15,000.00. calculate a NPV and what would be your decision (or recommendation) for development, if the expected attractiveness rate was 5% per month. I did not understand anything How to make that resolution, who answers can you get that question please.
 2016-04-18 -  Filippo Ghermandi
@Andy Alves. Andy, you're on a blog about extreme sports… are you sure you posted in the right place? =)

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