Grass Roots

Grass Roots

By : -

Grass Roots

With the ASP world tour on a break, I thought it was a good time to cover how to get into the competitive surfing scene at a grassroots (local) level.

I entered my first surf contest at 17.  I was incredibly nervous and intimidated by the other surfers because I didn't think I was good enough to compete yet.  It took a lot of encouragement from the great guys at Shore Surf (where I was working as a coach at the time) who forced me to have a day off to enter and told me to "get amongst it".  I knew how surf contests worked and I had already fantasized about winning a few world titles (a dream that took a long time to shake off when the reality kicked in) so after a serious kick up the ass I entered the event, had a great time, and ended up winning the U18's.

Grassroots surf comps can be many things; a chance to win a bit of local bragging rights, stepping stones to a possible surfing career, or just a really fun, social weekend.  They run some great contests here in Nosara and at most places with a coastline worldwide.

Do not fear if you are a little past your teenage years or do not ride a high performance short board, there are now a thriving Senior 35-44yrs, Grandmasters 45-54yrs, and Legends 55+yrs divisions worldwide and there's always a Longboard division.  And if you are thinking it might be fun for your child to try competing, they can start at under 12yrs with age divisions right through until they are 21.

I truly believe that entering a surf contest will help you push your own surfing level.  Knowing you have an upcoming comp will give you a little objective in the back of your mind when you surf.  It helps to fuel the fire inside and makes you try to get a little more out of each turn or each wave, pushing you to improve.  This effort will give back to you in spades!  Even if you only do one comp, you might be able to push your surfing level up a couple of notches while preparing for the event and this improvement will be with you for the rest of your surfing life.

Time for a crash course in competitive surfing.  Before you enter your first comp there are some things you must know...

The Contest Rules

There is no point entering any type of sporting competition if you do not know the rules.  This will vary from contest to contest but will usually be based around these factors...

Paddle Out Time

The time allowed before your heat to paddle out into the lineup.  Usually 5 mins, but it can be increased to allow for big surf.  Although it's now uncommon, some comps will have beach starts and no extra paddle out time.

Heat Length

The standard "grassroots" heat length will be 20 mins but can also be 15 or 30 depending on schedule or conditions.  Make sure you know this before paddling out and wear a watch!!!


It can get a little hectic in heats, everyone wants the best waves and will hussle for them (a lot like a busy free surf really).  The simple "rules of surfing" still apply, do not drop in and do not be seen to interfere with another surfers ride.  Having a priority system is very rare in a local contest.   If you are seen to "interfere" with another competitors wave, the score of your top scoring wave will be halved.

 Number Of Waves Allowed

There will be a limit to how many waves you can surf in a heat and extra waves will not be scored if you catch more than the allowance (usually 10).  Note: any time you take both hands off the rails of the board when you stand up counts as a wave.

Number Of Waves Scored

Nowadays it is common place for your top 2 wave scores to be counted and added together.  Make sure you know how many are counted to avoid disappointment.


Usually somewhat similar to the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) criteria. Note: Longboarding will be scored differently

Judges analyze the following major elements when scoring waves:

  • Commitment and Degree of Difficulty
  • Combination of Traditional and Modern Manoeuvres  (Longboard)
  • Innovative and Progressive Manoeuvres
  • Combination of Major Manoeuvres
  • Variety of Manoeuvres
  • Speed, Power and Flow

Essentially, judges will score the highest points for the biggest, most committed maneuvers performed with a bit of style.  The more risks you take on a wave by going for it, the higher you will score (if you do not fall off).


[ 0.0 – 1.9: Poor ]  [ 2.0 – 3.9: Fair ]  [ 4.0 – 5.9: Average

[ 6.0 – 7.9: Good ]   [ 8.0 – 10.0: Excellent ]

Getting 10's is hard!!   If you are scoring in the average range for your first comp you are doing well!!

Pureline Surf Coaching

"Kiko" Goncalves (far left) son of a good friend of mine Eurico Goncalves (Portuguese longboarding legend) taking his first steps into the competitive surfing arena - 2009

 A couple of little tips to help you out prior to a comp...

Time Limit

Get used to trying to catch a few good waves in a 20 minute period.  When you free surf on the lead up to the comp, try to use your watch to do fake heats with yourself.  Getting comfortable with catching a lot of waves within a time limit is very beneficial,  20 mins is not long!!

Mock Heats

Get your friends involved!  There's no need to have fake judges on the beach, just surf a 20-minute heat and judge yourselves as you go.  This is a great way of getting used to the system and you may inspire a friend to enter a comp aswell.  It is far more fun do contests with friends - not only to practice with, but also to enjoy the contest day/weekend with.

Watch Surf Contests Online

It has never been easier to get a real feel for surf contest than now.  Most high level surf contests are available to watch online for free.  You can gain a real insight to the whole system by watching how the judges score the waves and via informative commentary.  Not only is this a great education, but it is also incredibly entertaining watching the worlds best surfers compete in the worlds best waves!  For the latest CT comp information go to

Get Out There!

I would encourage every surfer of every level to go and get a feel for a surfing competition. Even if you do not make it through your first heat (and good on you if you do!), you will have gained valuable experience.  And, if nothing else, the competitors gift pack usually comes with some cool things that outweigh the cost of entry. Just try it. There is no pressure to win when it's your first surf competition, just go out there and give it your absolute best.  You never know, you might just surprise yourself...I did!

Choose Your Surf Coaching Destination

Nosara, Costa Rica

Consistently Epic!
  • World-Renowned Surf Location
  • Variety of Breaks
  • Guiding to the Best Waves
  • Flexible Coaching Hours
  • Add-on Boat Trip Options

Strike Missions, Central America

Guaranteed to Score!
  • Chase Waves Across Central America
  • Book Your Dates and Choose Your Destination Last Minute
  • Surf the Best Waves Based on the Swell Forecast Worldwide
  • Choose a Variety of Locations in the Same Trip

Worldwide Coaching

If you can dream it we can do it!
  • Fulfill Lifelong Dreams
  • Surf World-Class Breaks
  • Experienced Coach to Guide You
  • Surf Anywhere in the World
  • Discreet Coaching During your Holiday

Interested in Surfing With Us?