Understanding the Scales

An analysis of the judging could mean the difference for Lowers competitors

Unfortunately for Pat Gudauskas in Round 2, a solid air isn't enough to lock in a stellar wave score this year at Trestles. Photo: Courtesy of Hurley

After watching the first two rounds at Lowers, you get the feeling that after a bit of wavering, the judging criteria closer than ever to finding the proper formula for scoring all forms of high-level surfing. This is great news for both the casual and the astute observer.

Back in my youth, I was part of a tight-knit group of competitive surfers rising up the ranks with a style of surfing that scared the establishment. We had to fight incredibly hard to receive what we felt was due credit for pushing the progressive side of surfing within the parameters of a competitive environment. Over time the pendulum began to swing, but in recent years it swung a bit too far and anything the judges saw as a progressive maneuver lead to that wave being scored as an excellent ride. At Lowers, the value placed on aerial maneuvers seems to have finally waned, and the result is a more balanced judging criteria. Like we saw on Monday, you can be a bear like Knox or a hare like Flores—as long as your execution is excellent, judges will work to give you the score that you deserve for that wave. While progressive surfing should allow the potential for solid scores, judges must evaluate based on entire rides—not single sections and individual maneuvers.

In terms of maneuvers, all the rodeos, stalefish, slobs, leans, supermans, shove-its and silly spins aren’t really that cool or worthy of a good score if they aren’t performed technically correctly. There’s a reason why Taylor Knox and Parko get huge scores for their turns, and there’s a reason why Kerr and John John get huge scores for their airs—they are the best (from a precision standpoint) when compared to others on Tour. This is the judges’ duty: to decide a world champion after a long year of surfing in all types of waves. Progressive surfing is important, but it’s just one element of a truly well-rounded surfer—a world champion surfer.

But even this more balanced scale has not necessarily been a consistent one. In the last two days, the eternal argument of a well-surfed wave versus one progressive maneuver has been taken on a case-by-case basis. One big move from Heitor Alves was enough to deliver a deathblow to Kolohe Andino’s well-surfed heat. But when Pat Gudauskas put committed frontside airs against Jeremy Flores rail work, it was not.

With a break between rounds there are a few last minute things the remaining surfers can do to improve their odds. First and foremost: Know your judging panel. If you aren’t diligently attentive to the changing judging preferences during an event, you aren’t going to be as prepared as, say, your opponent. It comes down to more than just knowing the wave. The top pro surfers are there to win, and the ASP judges are the ones making the call at the final horn. At the Tour’s most high-performance wave, it seems that the judges are looking for precision and variety, regardless of whether it’s in the air or on the face.

Click here to watch all of yesterday’s heats.