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My Life /
July 25, 2023

Inside the Action: Surf Competitions

Competitive surfing is such a unique sport because it’s actually more about the conditions of the ocean than who you’re up against.


While the competition organizers do their best to take the surf forecasts into account for scheduling, the ocean is a constantly changing environment. The waves might be amazing when your heat starts and by the time you paddle out the lineup, they could be super bad. Anything can happen – the wind can pick up, the waves can get mushy, the set can slow down. You have to be ready to adapt.

Surf competitions these days have what’s called ‘priority’. It’s a system where you take turns on the waves so everyone gets chances to catch some. You don’t have to worry too much about getting a wave, but more about showcasing your surfing as best as you can on the waves you’re given, even if they are not-so-great ones.

Scoring is on a 0.0 – 10.0 scale and is basically based on the degree of difficulty, combination of maneuvers, speed and uniqueness of the ride. Each surfer gets to keep their two highest-scoring waves at the end of the heat, hoping that their combined score will move them onto the next round. Heats are pretty short – about 20-35 minutes – so you really have to make each wave count.

There is a bit of luck and also a lot of strategy that goes into competing, but it essentially comes down to mastering the ocean which is much more daunting in my opinion.

Bethany surfs in Fiji Pro

Pushing myself out there – during training and competitions – has taught me so much grit and determination because the ocean is always humbling me and putting me in my place. Sometimes I don’t meet the expectations I put on myself and that’s disappointing. I aim to have grace on myself in these moments. Then other times I get up and just rock it! Of course I’m so stoked when this happens, but I also try to remember to give all the glory to God. He is the one who gave me the passion and ability to surf in the first place!

So this is a lot of what runs through my brain when I’m competing.

Of course, when I’m up against a world-champ or super talented surfer, I have that in mind too. They’re world champ for a reason. However, performing well in a short frame of time on whatever waves the ocean offers is the most important thing. I try to focus on reading the ocean and putting all my training into practice.

This fun video from the 2016 Fiji Pro below offers a bit of a snapshot into a really awesome surf competition.

Shortly after I had Tobias (my first son), I received the wildcard for this event! I was so stoked. The waves were firing, I took down some world champs (Tyler Wright & Stephanie Gilmore) and won 3rd place. It was also so special to have Adam and baby Tobias there to cheer me on!

Now that I’m a mom of four, I’m probably going to slow down on competitions.

I’m focusing more on surfing with my kids! Raising children at the beach is not too bad, right? 😉 But I do love the intensity and energy that comes from surfing competitively and I will miss that. However, I’m finding other ways to chase my surfing dreams, fuel my “search” and stoke that inner drive to improve my skills!

I hope this helps you understand surf comps better! I’m cheering you on today to find something you love and dive into it! Find a fun hobby or learn a new skill and push yourself!

P.S. If you want to watch more about my competition in Fiji, check out my Unstoppable Documentary!


*photos in this blog post are courtesy of Stu Gibson*

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