Who Gets Priority in a Surfing Contest?

Surfing has the potential to be a dangerous sport. Two surfers colliding can result in serious injuries. Or the interference might hamper a surfer’s ability to get a high score from the judges. To prevent this, surfing contests introduced strict priority rules. These determine which contestants can ride the wave. Let’s delve deeper into these rules.

Deciding Who Gets Priority

In contests, priority is given to whoever makes it to the break first. They have the right to catch whichever wave they want without any interference. According to WSL rules, priority ends when they catch the wave or when they start paddling for the wave but miss. The priority then passes to the next surfer in line.

Thankfully, it’s easy to determine who has priority in a competition. Each surfer has a unique color on their wetsuit. This will correspond to a flag or disk on the beach. These are ranked in order of who has priority.

There are some situations where two surfers will hit the same wave at the same time. In this situation, it all depends on who gets to the take-off. Whoever gets to their feet first will have priority.

It should be noted that multiple surfers can catch the same wave. Other riders need to make sure that they stay away from the surfer with priority. To avoid collisions, surfers ride in different directions. For example, if the surfer with priority goes to the right, the second rider will travel to the left.

To keep the competition as impartial as possible, it’s up to the judging panel to determine who has priority.

Penalties For Breaking Priority

Of course, not everyone will follow these rules. In a surfing contest, breaking priority and disrupting another surfer's ride is known as interference. It’s up to the judges to decide when this has occurred. For the call to be made, the majority of the judges need to rule the surfer broke priority rules.

Interference can come with harsh penalties. If this is the first time they interfere, their score will be based on the highest-scoring wave surfed in the heat. In a competitive heat, this can be enough to cost a surfer the win. Interfere for a second time, and the surfer could face disqualification. If they don’t leave the competition area, they could be hit with a fine.

Breaking priority isn’t the only way to get an interference penalty. They can also get a paddling interference penalty. This occurs when they force another surfer to change their paddling line, hindering their ability to catch the wave. For this type of penalty to occur, the judges need to declare that this was done deliberately.

In some circumstances, multiple heats will be held at once. This means multiple surfers with priority could ride the same wave at the same time. Surfers who interfere with riders in another heat could get a penalty, even though they have priority.


If you want to attend a surfing contest, you need to learn the basics of priority. The good news is that a lot of these rules are fairly straightforward and will be easy to pick up.

Oliver Jones

Written by Oliver Jones

I'm a dedicated surfer and writer, and my heart truly belongs to the ocean. Surfing is not just a sport but a way of life for me. I ride the waves in the water and on paper, pouring my passion into every word I write.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended posts

May 29, 2024
How To Qualify for Olympic Surfing 2024

Mark your calendars for July 27, 2024! A wild storm of surfers is headed towards Tahiti to conquer the Teahupoo waves. Due to its distinct location, this is going to be the most-watched surfing event in history. With the qualifying events finally over, these champions are more than ever determined to showcase their skills to […]

Read More
February 19, 2024
Maine Surf Guide

While there are several wave fields still undiscovered, Maine can still offer some of the best conditions for visiting tourists to catch that perfect wave. In this article, we’ll take a look at why you might want to visit Maine, the best times to surf, and the best places to check out on your next […]

Read More
February 14, 2024
How To Choose the Best Surf Camp in 8 Steps

Surf camps have a certain appeal. They’re ideal places to learn surfing, especially for solo travelers who want to meet people and socialize in a friendly environment. However, surf camps are springing up in every nook and cranny. You’ll find plenty with an ocean at almost every corner of the planet. The increased numbers make […]

Read More
February 12, 2024
Alaska Surf Guide 

If you’re a fan of the outdoors in general and dislike crowds, Alaska might be your go-to place to surf. But with the various hazards and difficulties getting there, it can be a somewhat tedious trip. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn all about the wonders and potential dangers of surfing in Alaska.  With its […]

Read More
January 30, 2024
Are Surf Camps Worth It? The Pros and Cons

Surfing is a popular sport, especially with many health fanatics who consider it a great way to keep in shape. If you’re a beginner and want to hone this skill, you might consider joining a surf camp. But, is it worth it? This article will take a deep dive into the essentials of surfing camps […]

Read More
January 30, 2024
Georgia Surf Guide 

If you’re living along the East Coast, it could be a bit difficult to travel across the country to Hawaii or California for that perfect surfing spot. Georgia might not be your first choice when it comes to surfing, but with the warmer waters, beautiful surrounding islands, and stunning wildlife, there are quite a few […]

Read More
January 20, 2024
How Waves Are Formed

Waves, especially ocean waves, are often so common that we never usually think about where they come from or how they’re formed. In this article, you’ll be diving into the specifics of the formation of waves, including the various types of waves and where you may find them.  Depending on the type of wave, there […]

Read More
January 19, 2024
9 Things You Should Know Before Learning How to Surf

Watching surfers riding huge waves certainly inspires us to learn the sport as quickly as possible to impress others, just as we were fascinated. It’s a sport like no other, and the best part is that it gives us a chance to master the ocean, which scares even the best of us. However, remember that […]

Read More
January 15, 2024
7 Weirdest Waves That’ll Blow Your Mind

One of the best things about ocean surfing is that you’ll never know what you’re going to get. It's unpredictable and sometimes too fast or too big for you. Nevertheless, other waves are so wacky and weird that they will level up your excitement in a different way. From massive wipeouts underwater to being thrown […]

Read More
1 2 3 14
Find your ideal surfing destination with Surf Spots. Connect with the waves and brace yourself for an experience of a lifetime.



Contact Us


All rights reserved by Surf Spots