Stab Magazine | The Surf Ranch Pro's Strange Competition Format Revealed!

The Surf Ranch Pro’s Strange Competition Format Revealed!

Two waves surfed per competitor each day, no head-to-head competition!

news // Sep 5, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Surf Ranch Pro is nearly here and can you even believe it?

For the first time since 1985, a Championship Tour event will take place at a man-made wave facility several miles from the coast. But wavepool tech has come a long way since that Allentown atrocity, and now the WSL World Champions will be decided, at least partially, on his and her performances in Slater’s Lemoore dream machine.

And considering those stakes, it’s only right that we comb through the Surf Ranch Pro’s innovative contest format. It is, quite frankly, different from anything we’ve seen before.

Screen Shot 2018 09 04 at 11.49.31 AM

For those who don’t like charts or the color blue, the contest will be run as such:

All 54 competitors (36 men, 18 women) will surf two waves per day (one right, one left, in succession) for the first three days of the event.

The only variation is that before Day three, competitors will be reseeded based on their current top two scores. Surfers with the lowest two-wave totals will surf first and those with the highest two-wave totals will go last, giving them a final chance to defend their lofty position.

After the end of Day three, each surfer will count their top left and top right from their six total waves surfed, and the top eight men and top four women will advance to the “finals”.

On Day four, finals day, each surfer will receive another six waves, from which their top left and top right will again be counted toward their two-wave total.

After all six waves per surfer have been ridden, the winners will be decided.


Fonders’ Cup champions, Team World. Photo: WSL

That’s it.

396 waves. No head-to-head competition. 100-degree Lemoore heat forecasted.

Which leaves this surf fan feeling apathetic toward the event as a whole.

Because if the WSL was to learn one thing from its Founders’ Cup debut, it’s that watching anybody surf this souped-up duck pond – even the world’s premier waveriders – without the context of competition, is incredibly boring.

The real power of the pool comes in the form of manufactured drama, and with free reign to shape the competitive format as they please, the WSL had the ability to create buzz-beater intensity every time a surfer stood up on a wave. Instead they’ve created a system with what are essentially two Exhibition days, completely bereft of the do-or-die competitive significance that spectators demand. 

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“We want blood!” they shout. Photo: Sam Moody

Back in May, during the final day of the Founders’ Cup competition, Jordy Smith, Kanoa Igarashi, and Gabriel Medina stepped up when their teams needed them most, while John Florence and Matty Wilko faltered. These were startling displays of character and ability that made the previous day of tedium nearly worth it.

Then, on the literal last ride of the event, the audience stood still as their 11x Champ and pool visionary, Kelly Slater, had the chance to win the contest with one excellent ride.

Being the showman that he is, and despite a half-injured ped, Kelly put together his best wave of the contest, but due to a fall on the final section came just a few tenths of a point short of seizing victory.

That was an incredible moment in surfing spectatorship, and it’s what the WSL should strive to provide on as many rides as possible in the Surf Ranch Pro.

Instead we get two days of flacid “house-building”, one day of borderline watchability, and a finals day that might actually be enjoyable on account of the trimmed competitor fat and the surfers’ enhanced desire to win, as opposed to just making the top four/eight. 


The real winner is he or she with the foremost style. Photo: Sam Moody

Oh, and another thing to consider: how will results work at the end of this event?

Because there are no “rounds” per se, there’s no obvious way to know what place a surfer deserves at the conclusion of the Surf Ranch Pro.

Stab has contacted the WSL about this and have yet to receive a response, but in our eyes they have three options for allocating end-of-competition points, each of which would have an impact on Title/Re-qualification races.  

Option 1: They give everybody a specific placing based on their heat totals, a la old-school ASP rules.

Example: the surfer who gets the lowest two-wave total after the three preliminary rounds will receive 36th place and an “appropriate” point total (let’s call it 100 points). The surfer who gets the second lowest total will receive 35th place and 125 points. Twenty-fifth gets 500, 7th gets 4,200 etc., all the way up to first place (10,000). If we had to guess, this is the method the WSL would be least likely to choose, on account of how arbitrary and out of place it would be.

Option 2: They give all surfers who did NOT qualify for the finals the same result, being an equal-ninth for men and equal-fifth for women. Finalists would then all receive an equal-fifth (men) or third (women), with the winner taking a first. This, to us, is the second most likely to occur.

Option 3: They give surfers a standard event ranking 25th, 13th, 9th, etc. based on where their two-wave total lands.

For example:

Men whose two-wave totals placed:

36-25 = 25th place

24-13 = 13th place

12-9 = 9th place


8-5 = 5th place

4-3 = 3rd place

2= 2nd place

1= 1st place

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Steph should care deeply about points. She’s only 5,000 points ahead in the Women’s World Title race. Photo: WSL

We believe this is to be the most likely option, but again we’ve had no response from the WSL team to verify.

Whichever method (or variation of) they employ can and will have an impact on World Title races and re-qualification bids.

For instance, in Option 2, surfers would be better off going for broke in the prelims, as there is no difference between 9th and 36th place. On the contrary, if Options 1 or 3 were the case, surfers would want to secure solid scores regardless of whether or not they were going to qualify for the final, because a ninth-place result is much better for their end-of-season campaigns than is a 25th.

So while several questions remain unanswered (like, will competitors get to hit the air section?), that’s what we know about the Surf Ranch Pro.

Tune in (or not) this Thursday for the future of professional surfing.

Fan or foe this is where we’re headed.


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