© Ha'a Keaulana
7 best surf competitions in the world
From massive barrel riding to big waves to airs in a pool, there are as many other surf competitions in the world as there are surfing styles.
When Carissa Moore took the win over Tatiana Weston-Webb in the 2021 WSL World Championship, she completed a perfect season. She’d won the first-ever Olympic Gold earlier that year and defended her World Title from the year before. She ran out on the cobblestones at Lower Trestles, secure in the knowledge that she has been a dominant force in women’s professional surfing for the past ten years.
Moore is a lifelong competitor and her 2021 season, as WSL’s head of competition and a former pro surfer Jesse Miley-Dyer said, was “probably the most successful year anyone’s ever had in the sport.” But Carissa does it for the audience and her fans just as much as for herself. She wants “people to remember [her] surfing because it made them feel something.”
7 Best Surf Competitions in The World
While the majority of attention given to professional surfing happens around the WSL Championship Tour, other competitions draw a different crowd of surfers, many outside the top competitive rankings. And if you can’t make it out to watch an event live, you can always stream some of the best surfing here. Here are 7 of the best competitions to look for.
Tudor Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge
Nazaré is the wave where seven out of ten of the biggest waves ever surfed were ridden. It’s rare that the conditions lineup right to surf, and even rarer that it lasts long enough to run a contest. But it usually happens once per season, which runs from January through April. When it’s called to start, the competitors have around twenty-four hours to get to Portugal with their teams and surf this event, which is streamed live on Red Bull TV.
Quicksilver Jaws Big Wave Challenge
Jaws is one of the most powerful big waves on the planet, and where much of the progression in big wave surfing takes place. The people who surf here don’t just get past the building-sized waves, which is already incredibly dangerous, they also try to get barreled, do turns, and even launch airs. The Jaws Big Wave Challenge waiting period is from November to April. Once it’s called to start, competitors from around the world will travel to Maui to try and score the ride of their lives. You can stream the action on Red Bull TV.
Vans Triple Crown of Surfing
The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is a longstanding contest that has been held throughout the winter on the North Shore of Oahu since 1982. It crowns the best surfer from a combination of events at Pipeline, Sunset, and Haleiwa, home to the best and most powerful waves in the world. In 2020, the event format shifted, and rather than run three days of contests, surfers submit two videos from each wave. This new format allows for a much bigger pool of contestants and more opportunities for local Hawaiian surfers to participate.
Rip Curl WSL Finals
The Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles is the deciding event of the World Title. Historically, the world champion was the person who accumulated the most points throughout the season, whether or not they won the final event. But two years ago, the WSL changed the contest format so that overall points in the season are used to select five surfers for the final event. The finals run as a tournament, where the fifth-place surfer competes against the fourth-place surfer in the first round. The winner moves on to face the third-place surfer, and so on and so on. Whoever makes their way to the final round surfs three matches against the first-place-seeded surfer to determine who wins the world title.
Vans US Open of Surfing
The US Open of Surfing is one of the pillars of California's surf culture. It has been running since 1959 under various names but has always occurred during the summer in Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach was one of the original epi-centers of surf culture and is the headquarters of many surf brands. The weeklong festival is now the most significant action sports showcase in the world featuring surfing, skateboarding, and BMX contests. It is also one of the most significant qualifying events for the World Championship Tour, so it draws aspiring surfers from all over the world.
Mavericks is one of the rare big wave competitions, and it is set to return in the 2022-23 winter season for the first time in several years. When it was running, this contest occurred in Half Moon Bay near San Francisco sometime between November and March. Planning this event is problematic because it’s hard to predict when Mavericks will break. Since it is a very consequential wave, running in poor conditions could be fatal. After a series of logistical challenges, the WSL recently sold their rights to a 23-year-old local woman who announced she plans to run a complete contest with equal numbers of men and women competing and equal prize purses for both.
Vans Pipe Masters
The Banzai Pipeline, the venue for this event, is often referred to as the best wave in the world and also the most dangerous. The Pipe Masters has gone through many formats. This year they decided to change the competition structure to promote progressive surfing. The new form will reward major aerial maneuvers over the traditional massive barrel rides that are typical at Pipeline. The contest is invite-only, and this year the contestants include some surfers who don’t traditionally compete at Pipeline, like Mikey February and Caity Simmers, as well as well-known Pipeline champions like Kelly Slater, John Florence, Gabriel Medina, and Italo Ferreria.
In addition to the seven surf competitions above, below are three honorable mentions that we couldn't not include. Take a look at them for yourself.
Red Bull Magnitude
Red Bull Magnitude is the first all-womens’ big wave surfing competition, and was designed to promote womens’ participation in this exclusive discipline of surfing. Big wave surfing requires a lot of knowledge, equipment, and money to pursue. You need jet skis, last minute flights around the world, guidance from other surfers, and filmers in order to make a mark on the discipline. Because of these barriers to entry, and the fact that historically not as many women have pursued big wave surfing, Red Bull Magnitude was created. Red Bull Magnitude provides filmers, safety crews, and financial support for an invited list of women’s surfers to ride waves anywhere in the Hawaiian islands during the big wave season.
Red Bull Foam Wreckers
The Red Bull Foam Wreckers tour is a different kind of competition. It’s described as the “anti-surf-contest surf contest.” It’s a foam-surfboard-only contest that anyone can enter, and there aren’t many rules. Multiple people wind up on the same wave, so it’s more about fun than athleticism. The tour visits Hawaii, California, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, and Maryland.
Stab High is a progressive surf contest that rewards aerial surfing. While other contest formats award points for airs, this contest awards $25,000 to the overall winner and $20,000 for the biggest air in the competition. With that amount of money on the line, many young surfers show up! The contest always sees some mind-blowing maneuvers and never-before-done tricks.