The sport of Olympic surfing is very similar to regular surfing. During a heat, surfers ride waves in turns on both sides of the board towards an area called the ‘pocket’, where the wave has more speed and power than anywhere else on the wave. This is important for several reasons: fast boards are more maneuverable; getting to the ‘pocket’ increases the chance of scoring points from judges; and a surfer who can stay in the ‘pocket’ for the longest period of time is more likely to win the heart.
There are three types of maneuvers that a surfer can do in order to score points:
a tube ride
An aerial, also known as a ‘pop-up,’ is when the surfer pops up to their feet while riding in the wave’s pocket. This maneuver is done by utilizing upward momentum from below the board with bending knees and ankles. It briefly delays the meeting of the wave crest with the liquid base beneath it. It allows for more maneuvers to be done on the wave and can score a surfer more points.
A turn is done after catching air in the pocket of the wave, and consists of bringing both boards together while upside down. The boarder must then perform a front-flip and land back onto their board riding towards the other end of the wave (the same direction the wave is moving in). This maneuver can only be done on a wave that has at least two sections (or faces) to it.
A tube ride consists of catching into the pocket of the wave and putting one board out front while riding with the other behind you. Sometimes, if there is enough speed, this move is done without the front board (one is put out, and the other behind you). This move can be very difficult to do, as most boards are buoyant and it takes a lot of strength to keep one board flat on top of the water.
Olympic surfing consists of a few rounds in which surfers face each other to see who can ride in the pocket of a wave for a long time. The surfer’s height in the water is measured, and points are given based on how much higher off the board their feet are when compared to others. A perfect score from all judges is 20 points, increasing at 1-point intervals thereafter. The surfer with the highest score at the end of the round is declared the winner.
The judging criteria for surfing are based on style, power, and speed. Points are deducted for mistakes made by the surfer, such as falling off the board or not completing a maneuver.
The standard surfboard for both regular and Olympic surfing is a shortboard. This type of board is about 6-8 feet long, and is thin and light so that it can easily be maneuvered. The surfer stands on the board and uses their weight to control the direction and speed of the board.
Olympic Surfing vs. Regular Surfing:
The biggest difference between the two types of surfing lies in the equipment being used, and the scoring criteria. Olympic surfing requires a much shorter board than regular surfing, so that it is easier to pop up off of it when riding towards the pocket. Also, because there are many turns happening within a heat (compared to regular surfing), the criteria for judging turns is much stricter in Olympic surfing.