Surfing, like all sports, has a professional league. The ASP, the Association of Surfing Professionals, is the governing body over professional surfing. The ASP creates the rules and regulations for contest surfing and also hosts the actual competitions themselves. To become a professional surfer, you just have to be good enough to have a company pay you to surf for them. Once they pay you to surf, they become your sponsor. As your sponsor, they hook you up with all of the right equipment and allow you to take surf trips to exotic locations. They also allow you to enter contests so you can compete and advertise their brand to the world. As a professional surfer though, you do not have to compete in contests. Some surfers believe contests are against the true spirit of surfing and refuse to compete in them. Surfers, such as Jamie O’ Brien and Bruce Irons, have made a living free surfing for a living. They will only compete in contests that are close to home. (If you are free surfing, you are not surfing in a contest. You are simply surfing for fun.)
The ASP is separated into divisions like the MLB. There is a major league, the WCT or World Championship Tour, and a minor league, the QT or Qualifying Tour. The WCT only has 11 events all season and is only composed of the top 34 surfers in the world. Here is a copy of this years schedule:
The QT has hundreds of events all over the world and thousands of surfers. Each event is given a star ranking, indicating its difficulty and value to the points system (which we will go into more detail in later). A one star event is considered the weakest, and generally gives you the fewest points. A six star event is considered the most difficult and therefore gives out the most points. If you are on the QT and want to be on the WCT, you have to finish in the top ten points for non WCT competitors. This means you have to compete in and win many six star events because they give the most points. You may be wondering what spots these ten lucky surfers get to take when the go up to the WCT. Each year at the end of the season, the ASP kicks the bottom ten surfers off of the World Tour and makes them re-earn their spot on the tour. The top 22 surfers are safe from elimination and are kept on the tour. The last two surfers in the WCT are wildcards given to surfers who may have suffered an injury or had something that prevented them from surfing.
The structure of the WCT is as follows. There are eleven events throughout the season. These events are held in places throughout the world. Every continent except for Asia and Antarctica has a WCT event. Each event has a set number of surfers in it and are all designed the same way. A basic structure for an event is as follows. When surfers compete, they surf in heats. These heats are generally about 30 minutes long and you are judged on your surfing. The better the wave you ride, the better the score you earn. Your top two scores from your heat are then added together and the surfer with the highest score wins and therefore moves on. There are generally 36 surfers in each WCT event and surfers are seeded (ranked) into an event by their place on the WCT rankings. The first round of the event is twelve heats of three groups of surfers. These heats are not elimination heats, meaning even if you lose, you are still able to continue competing. The winner moves on to round three and the two losers move to round two. In round two, there are twelve heats, however these heats become elimination heats. The winners move on and the losers are knocked out. This trend continues through round three, where there is also twelve heats. In round four, the heats go back to the trend in round one, there are four heats of three surfers. These heats are not elimination heats. The winner of these heats go into the quarterfinals, and the losers go into round five. Round five is another elimination heat, the winners move to the quarterfinals and the losers are out of the event. The rest of the events, quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals are all heats with two surfers, winner goes on, loser is eliminated, until there is one surfer left. The surfer left is the winner of the event. Here is an example of a heat draw. Flip back or forward to slide 26. It will make more sense of what I tried to verbalize in the paragraph above. This draw is from the Hurley Pro Trestles earlier this year.
You earn points depending on where you finish in the event. The closer you are to winning, the more points you earn. If you are knocked out of the event early, you do not earn as many points. The surfer at the end of the season with the most points is declared the champion of the WCT for that year. As I said before, the top 22 surfers stay on the tour after a season, and the bottom ten are dropped off of the tour and ten new surfers are brought in. In a future post, I will go into the morality of professional surfing and why surfers like Jamie O’Brien and Bruce Irons disagree with it so much.
Here is a copy of an old heat from Kelly Slater. To get to it, you just need to chose “Men’s Event, then for round pick the quarterfinals, then for the heat pick Kelly Slater v. Sebastien Zietz. There you can watch a whole heat to try and understand it better and you can also watch good surfing because Kelly Slater earned a perfect 20 in this heat.
Edit: This post looked really blah as I read back over it so I am going to add some pictures from a couple of the events this year.