Understanding the Scales

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

| posted on September 18, 2012

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.

  • Fishboard Twin

    Kolohe Andino’s well-surfed heat?
    Shea, Kolohe´s best score was a 7,4. Except for that 7,4 he failed to pass the 6 points range. Look: 6 – 6,43 – 6,93 – 6,07
    Kolohe´s air game are not critical (not high, tail inverted etc) and the on rail surf are weak. But its OK, he is still young and has time to improve. Gabe and John John are in another level. Speaking of Gabriel i think his airs are more technical and critical then JJ or Kerr. Do you not remember the Nike Pro/US Open 2012 or Imbituba/France 2011?

  • Dr

    The judges do have the right trend in mind, but i think they are still too influenced by the particular surfer on a given wave. If you can explain the reason T Knox got a 7.33 for his next to last wave while Conner Coffin received a 4.5 for his first wave, I’m all ears. There is simply no way those waves are nearly 3 points apart. Knox got rewarded for being a sentimental favorite. Happens to Parko all the time as well.

  • Fishboard Twin

    I do not remember JJ or Kerr geting 10s based on airs.
    Now when I think of Gabriel a lot of epic airs comes to my mind.
    Hopefully in the future I remember him by the power surf too.

  • shea

    @fishboardtwin Medina is a freak. I’ve been blowing him up for some time now– –He hasn’t been near the level of his own and all our expectations this year though. Coupled with the across-the-board impact of John John, I’m left wanting more out of him. Next two days should help get a better read on this situation answering the age old question: What have you done for me lately?

    Kolohe’s first 6 point ride was my favorite ride of his – Beshen rail work on the outside with Wardo grunt and creativity at the closeout.

  • Ben

    Judging was fair yesterday, and the results were appropriately close. The only question to me was whether Julian won. Jeremy Flores’ 9.43 was more than just “rail work.” That grab-rail nose blunt 360 was remarkable, reminiscent of an in-form AI. Heitor was fare as well; Andino is going to have to push past the red line to win in the big leagues.

  • Burck

    what about Jadson vs. Julian??
    that was a CRIME!

  • shea

    @Ben @Burck Jadson vs Julian was a classic example of the rights at lowers getting scored higher and goofy footers in general getting the shaft.

    @Ben keen observation on the likeness of Flores to an in-form AI. Jeremy has definitely stepped up his execution and is looking strong as he wins heats with a variety of moves, but mostly with that incredible nose blunt 360 that he has been making more consistently than ever. Adding to that, it would be very helpful for him if he was able to spin around above-the-lip as well. For if he ever wants to be in the hunt, you have know how to fly. ADS learned to fly. Still may be hope for Flores to transcend the present plateau he surfs at.

  • Hybrid Inventor

    Oh, C’mon, the judging seems to change with every set.

  • MB

    why the hell are you not here!

  • Surf Racks

    I think julian’s heat was a still, they gave it to him because they want him to win…..for one poor turn he got an 8…while jadson did a crazy air 360 and 3 turns and got a 7.5??

  • Tiago

    What are u saying Shea?
    This is Lowers Trestles!
    Let the big scores for who does rail surf for Bells!

    Let the innovation take control, give the big scores for aerial game!

  • SharkBoy

    I think the judging has been real weird.

    And on Cj’s wave against Medina in round 1, does anyone think he should have been penalized with an interference?

    He didn’t drop in but he intruded enough to where CJ had to completely readjust his line and that was the peakiest most critical part of the wave, delaying a possible high scoring turn.

    Heitor’s score might or might not be right, but it was his backup score compared to Kolohe’s backup score which I found to be odd as Kolohe’s ride was FAR better

  • Whamo

    JJ’s rail work seems to have improved over the summer. He’s a future champ for sure. Who else wins at Pipe and Sunset? That is very rare. Kelly doesn’t even do it.

  • Jack O’Hare

    K-Lo is only heavely sponsored. average surfera at most. u need to quit your obsession with him Shea.

  • Lane

    Well one thing is for sure, whether the judges are looking for airs or rail, Mick is looking like this years world champ. I’m starting to feel every event that he just surfs safe in the early rounds and does what he needs to, then just steps it up as he makes it through each heat. 13 at Snapper was a surprise, but since then has just been so good, so consistently. He’s my Surfer Poll number 1 for sure! (or maybe 2, behind Dane, haha)

  • StCalGrom

    Shea, u need to quit your obsession with Kolohe Andino.

  • shea


  • Daniel

    Pro surfing judging criteria is unfortunately fake because surfing is a VERY SUBJECTIVE sport and doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t bring all elements together and somehow set up a hard/logic/objective criteria. My opinon is that the judging system at Lowers showed off many contradictions and errors, the greatest of all indeed was Julian getting the score he needed on that last ride against Jadson.

  • shea

    Absolute truth there Daniel

  • Walkman

    The pendulum is swinging too much the other way. Joel was ripping, but you shouldn’t win contests without doing airs these days. In the final heat, the judges gave joel an 8+ ride for a few great cutbacks (one of which he fell on his butt). Yeah he is smooth, but when Kelly is doing huge turns and air 360s on the same wave he should have been given higher scores than that wave of Joel’s. It is bad judging from a panel of fat guys who don’t really surf. You have to do rail turns and airs to be a true champ, no matter how smooth the cutback!

  • Benjamin Frostell

    I’ve been watching the heat between Parkinson and Jordy, and I just cant get my head around it, how they scored Parkos wave more than Jordy’s. Parko’s waves was the same through out the wave, three cutbacks absolutely similar ! There was NO variety in Parkos surfing compared to Jordy. For example, in snowboarding, if you do the same trick during your runs, you wont be scored crap after the first execution of the trick. This needs to happen in surfing to add variety, you cant have surfers competing for a wolrd title that cant mix it, meaning air’s, turns, floats etc. making comboes. It is where surfing is today, Kelly’s understood it, he’s a top of the game with likes of Daynolds, Medina etc. On waves like Lowers judging like this is critical, it is NOT 12 ft jbay, where turns are all the fun. Lowers is and should be judged by presented variety and innovation…meaning you cant win a heat with turns in 4-5 ft waves on the dreamtour these days !