What is a Surf Competition?



I’ve been asked about surfing competitions – so I thought a few pics from this weekend might give you a tour.  This is our 5th competition, and they have all been a bit different. As with any event in life – what you get out of the event will be what you put into it. Watching your expectations, being ready to help, keeping the focus on fun, and seeking to improve your skills by watching and learning from others – will leave you satisfied by the end of the long day.

An online friend, Kelly Halldorson, posted a graphic that had a quote in it by Ayn Rand. “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” This is best played out with the surfers. Those that are there to increase their stoke – leave with their endorphins full – those that come just to win – leave frustrated and angry. We’ve seen all types of parents and competitors, it is like any other sport.

We are not out to be sponsored, or go pro, or tour the circuit or what have you. We just want to have fun and meet other surfers. It gets a lil lonely for a grom in the PNW. One amoung few – Unless – You attend the Otter Rock and Roll !!!!

You show up early to help set up – dance to some tunes, grab your t-shirt and swag bag, and stake out your spot on the beach.


Then you head out for a lil dawn patrol. You can’t tell here, but in the middle to the left of the water is a black dot. That’s Jon. Here’s a lil zoom:


Finding his focus and calm before the crowds gather, as you see below. The blue flags on either side of the beach show where the competition boundaries are in the water. At every event we’ve been to – other sufers show up and crowd this area. I’m not sure what they are trying to do – be seen? Be a pain? Protest competitions? It’s annoying to the kids who are there for a purpose for sure – and a bit dangerous to always be on the lookout for a swimmer in your path.


The crowds show up, mostly parents and children. Otter Rock and Roll is an 18 and under Surfrider event. Almost 60 competitors – Three heats today with the parent and child, two heats with the 12 and unders and two for the 13-15, then one heat for the 16-18.  I’m not sure how many heats the girls had in these age ranges, at least one each. For Otter Rock – every child advances to the second round.  Usually, the top two of each heat moves on to the second round for the top score. Here, everyone surfs twice and gets a combined score from the two heats. There is a lot of information / instruction given for the times, flags, how to compete.


The kids are each given a color jersey to wear in the water.



You have 5-10 minutes to paddle out, then a heat which lasts 15 minutes.  The top scores from your two best waves credited to you. Some competitions have wave limits of 10. Being patient to wait for the best wave of the heat, dropping in, turning, footwork, barrel, etc all give more points for your heat. Jon is pretty far out on this one – to the outside of the sets, the waves were really low, I did NOT have patience on the sand. I wanted him to take the bad waves just to get up. I’m glad he waited it out.


Runners carry the scores from the judges to the score keeper. The first heat scores are usually posted, the second heat scores are kept secret for the placements. Jon got first in his heat, but second over all 12 and unders for the first round.


This is the timing station. The guy in the hat kept excellent to the second timing. Heats every 15 minutes, One green flag means your heat is on, two horn blasts and a red flag gives a five minute warning, another blast says your heat is over and the next one starts. It is handy, especially on these foggy days, to wear a waterproof watch. If your heat is from 9:45 – 10, then you know, to the second, to keep catching waves. You check in at this station 10-15 minutes before your heat and grab your shirt.



These are the judges today. The tide was out so far they were not able to sit on the scaffolding. See how far back the tents are?  Ya. Visibility was pretty low – surfers had to stay where they could see the judges, so that the judges could see them! ha!  An equalizer for the go getters who want to get out of the pack.  I really appreciate these guys for sure. 9am til after 3, heat after heat, with a break for lunch. Sometimes there is  a one minute gap between heats –but not today – 10:00 means that 6 kids are getting out and 6 kids are starting. You’ve got to sort out the contestants from the wanderers and those in the dark blue jerseys are pretty hard to see on a day like today. Wildly applauding the judges!


Surfing is a pretty individual sport. You can have a variety of boards, gear and surfing style. If you snowboard or use a skate park, the bowls never change, mogals are pretty much the same.  You can work a bowl over and over to figure out the speed, curve, etc to use.  On a wave? Each wave can have a different core power. Mushy swells. Each set is different and comes on it’s own time. In the PNW, we rarely get nice long tubes that are exactly 10 seconds or so apart. We get a close set of waves that are a few seconds apart. Each swell is a challenge.  Here, we have two best friends competing in the same heat with a little brother giving pointers and a coach looking on. These two surfed together, encouraging each other, and the other 4 in the heat to do their best and have fun.


The mom, coach and spectators are the ones with the ongoing narratives on the sand. Go left! Move over! Catch this one! Wait! Go! I want to invent waterproof ear walkie talkie so they can actually hear what we want them to do. Some dads stand at the water line and scream the whole time. Reminds me of baseball. I don’t want to be that mom. All the training and instruction come on training days. These 15 minutes? Just rip it and have fun.


Nothing beats a great heat!  Nate is in red, his friend in blue, and that’s Jon in the ripcurl wetsuit.


Surfrider Foundation wants the kids to grow with their love for the beach with  beach cleanups, ocean education, and encouragement to pass on the desire to keep our beaches clean. The photo below is the start of the beach clean up. They make it fun with a scavenger hunt – find the most, heaviest, biggest, most tangled, most colorful, farthest traveled, smallest recognizable – etc. Little prizes are given to each participant – that gets them super excited!



Oh – this sign reads “Beach Trail” but what it really means is “Stairs of Doom”. About 3 flights of wickedly steep stairs – all the gear goes down – all the gear goes up. Bathrooms are at the top. The first time I walked back up – last year – I thought I. Would. Die.  Now, I get winded on the last 10-20 stairs, but I don’t have to lie down on the pavement anymore by my car. Ha.


There is time to rest during the day – have some snacks, meet other families, enjoy the ocean. The surfers get to know each other, families around town and those that travel get to recognize each other. Feels a bit like a surfer reunion each time.



One thing that has happened at each event – no one can control the swells.  Sometimes the swell gets too large for the younger competitors in the afternoon, a bit to dangerous. Sometimes, like this day – it flattened out for about 3 heats. There really wasn’t any ‘outside’. Just before and after that tiny ripple there. Waiting for that one set, the one swell of the set – that would create an actual wave – takes patience. Nate shared some of the conversation and joking going on while waiting – what a nice set of boys these are!


The older boys, most of them able to put on a pretty amazing show of surfing skill, had  a disadvantage today.  You have to be able to get up – which took a pretty stable longboard – and you had to stay up enough to call it surfing to get even a single point. Scores were in the 7-9 range in the morning and the 0-5 range in the afternoon.


Most of the people at the event want to pass on the stoke to the next generation. The man on the left travels to many events and holds free beginner clinics with all of the equipment. he gave the boys their first real lesson last year. The gal on the right is one of our founders of our surf club in town. She is all about the fitness and getting our club sponsored with enough money so that every child in our county that wants to learn to surf, has the opportunity. Lots of networking goes on at these events for sure. Without people like these, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did this year.


So after setting up at 6:30 for some, 7:15 for us – surfing and playing all day – 4:00 is time for awards. Beach Clean up awards, surfing awards and raffle tickets.



In the end, Jon got a good wave in the second round, and gathered a couple of extra points. Combined with the first round, it put him on top.  We heard 3rd and 2nd called, and the surfer that we thought was best was not among them. We expected a different name to be called for first, and had resolved that Jon was 4th. We were all stunned when his name was called!  Pretty exciting!  1st place 12 and under.  A good win today since the other surfers were so good.


And then there is the drive home, a long night of rest.

Thanks for walking through the competition with us. All 5 have been a bit different, but the vibe is pretty much the same. My thanks goes out to the companies that sponsor this event, the people who put them on, and the families who participate!

About +Angie Wright

The Transparent Thoughts of an Unschooling Family of Boys - Answering the question - What DO you DO all day?
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2 Responses to What is a Surf Competition?

  1. Kylie Emery says:

    I was there! It was awesome! I was too old to participate though.

  2. Sherm Acord says:

    Excellent blog. Love the last picture!

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