WSL Judges Admit Error

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Form Guide

A consistent tradeswell, four-surfer heats, and a clock counting down to zero.

All the ingredients for gridlock in the judging tower, and the Gold Coast Pro has seen more than a few heats that stayed alive well after the final hooter sounded as the judges worked through a backlog of scores.

The final heat of Tuesday, for instance, between George Pittar, Michael Rodrigues, Dimitri Poulos, and Ian Gentil, ended six waves in arrears. Each wave ridden of potential consequence to the outcome.

Under the gnawing pressure, can judges give each wave due consideration?

It's a question worth asking, especially when five heats earlier a similar backlog was cleared, only to cause confusion, followed by an unprecedented move by the WSL.

Nat Young (WSL/Shield)

The heat in question saw Charly Quivront, Marco Mignot, Mikey McDonagh, and Nat Young ride a late flurry of waves, the hooter sounding with four wave awaiting scores.

Each surfer had their own unfolding storyline, however it was Nat Young who became central to the plot. With a minute-thirty to go, the scoreboard had him in second place, yet over four minutes earlier last-placed Marco Mignot had ridden a good wave and the piling scores meant Nat didn't know if he'd been overtake or not. A few minutes of down time followed, then third-placed Mikey McDonagh took a wave, and after him Nat, who took off not knowing what he needed.

In hindsight, Nat may have had grounds for complaint waiting five futile minutes to hear a score

Yet what happened next was where the focus fell. On a steep, three-footer, Nat belted five crisp reos in succession, a few of which might be considered CT-level quality.

Cons: Lack of variety. Pros: No double pumps, impeccable timing, lots of spray.

The hooter sounded, surfers hit the beach, listening as the scores were read out in order. Marco's wave was finally read out (five minutes after he took off) shifting Nat to third and needing 5.74, then Mikey's was read out which shifting Nat to fourth and needing 7.21.

With all eyes on Nat the scores came in at...4.03.

Not the score, obviously, not even close.

From here the story splits into two threads. The first being just what the hell happened for the judges to go so low.  A question Nat rightfully asked of the WSL, and also of his social media following: His IG account showing a replay of the wave with the rhetorical caption '4.03'

The second is the WSL's response, unprecedented at least since they took over from the ASP, and perhaps going back much further. In a social media post they admitted their mistake:


A post shared by World Surf League (@wsl)

What may seem a harmless mea culpa - we stuffed up but it has no bearing on the outcome - signals a shift in approach for the judging. Judges know best and no correspondence will be entered into has been their default position, but this shift into transparency will be one worth watching.

It signals to all that the judges are fallible and therefore every questionable score is worth following up with judges or blowing up on social media. In this instance it's somewhat of a non-story - "no harm, no foul," as Kaipo would say - but the time a heat result is at stake is when we'll find out how transparent they are.


FishFingered's picture
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FishFingered Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 1:37pm

Does anyone know all 5 judges scores? Did anyone get it right?
Perhaps the high score that is eliminated.
All 5 scores should be counted btw.

stunet's picture
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stunet Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 1:40pm

Low of 3.90, high of 4.20.

Counted on two 4s and a 4.10.

All five locked in incredibly close scores.

Alex Papas's picture
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Alex Papas Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 1:47pm

does that raise more questions about how the waves are judged? there's no way five separate people watched Nat's wave and settled on scores between 3.9 and 4.2 without discussing the wave together first. what a weird collective of errors

stunet's picture
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stunet Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 1:52pm

Clearly directed by the Head Judge.

I mean, that's how it works anyway, the HJ summarizes the wave and where it sits in the spectrum as each judge then imposes their own opinion within that already-reduced range.

Lanky Dean's picture
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Lanky Dean Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 2:26pm

Was that excellent surfing? 8>10
Do you think that was great surfing ? 6>8
Is that good surfing ? 4>6
Ok sub par ? 2>4
Wipeout? 0>2.

Set the scale for the days boys. I'm off to get a coffee.

stunet's picture
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stunet Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 2:56pm

Ha ha...LD for HJ

Craig's picture
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Craig Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 3:52pm


FishFingered's picture
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FishFingered Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 3:41pm

Point kinda made!

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 1:50pm

Yep exactly- there had to be collusion happening for that spread to be so close.

Jono's picture
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Jono Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 2:04pm

Just went back and watched his 3.30 and 4.17 waves from earlier in the heat, and it's very strange as they are clearly around that mark, and his final wave was clearly different and better than those 2 waves.

Mcface's picture
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Mcface Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 3:17pm

Or they were watching the wrong wave and were too busy to realise

FishFingered's picture
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FishFingered Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 3:40pm

Amazing really.
So it is one person’s view…. Head judge.
The 5 judge thing is just a scam.
Btw I would be good with one judge …. Rotate them thru heats to give them a rest.
Keep stats …. Use retired top 10 surfers, allow them to have personality, make it part of the game…… it’s loose anyway, roll with it.

simba's picture
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simba Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 1:58pm

just watched it and had to be a 6+.........but it could have been a major stuff does the head judge say that wave is a ....and why does he say that.......fukin corrupt or what....brown paper bags under the table or what?

Lanky Dean's picture
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Lanky Dean Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 2:18pm

Ive watched nat surf around his home breaks,
Amazing surfer amazing technique.
No where near his best surfing.

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lostdoggy Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 2:48pm

Can we analyse the Kolohe Andino vs Ian Gouveia scored waves?

Lanky Dean's picture
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Lanky Dean Friday, 3 May 2024 at 12:51am

Ouch...tough one.
"Remember judges that kolohe wants us to shave 2 % off his two highest scores.

lostdoggy's picture
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lostdoggy Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 2:52pm

And I agree, who cares if there’s a big spread in scores. Set the judges the task, what to reward at the start of the day. Update every now and then throughout the day as conditions change (not for an individual wave though).

Having a head judge dictate every wave’s range then you may as well let him judge by himself and get rid of everyone else.

Andrew P's picture
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Andrew P Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 3:13pm

Makes up for all the times he got overscored in the top tier. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all but his backhand has nothing on Bobby, Conor or Jadson

Island Bay's picture
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Island Bay Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 4:41pm

You jest, surely

Surfalot67's picture
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Surfalot67 Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 5:53pm

Good surfing, but it literally was the same turn five times

wally's picture
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wally Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 6:39pm

I would prefer it if the head judge wasn’t guiding the scoring after each ride. If the system of dropping the highest and lowest score is maintained, a judge would adjust their scoring if they were consistently scoring high or low. A judge would want their score to count every now and then. So the scale set would naturally equalise between the judges. Before and after the day’s play, the head judge can have discussions about whether manoeuvres and rides are being correctly scored according to the criteria for that event.

Surfdude818's picture
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Surfdude818 Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 6:48pm

Like AFL (sport) -umpiring has gone to shite - looking for perrrfection. No goals can be just celebrated any more because the umpire is too nervous to make the call so waves it off. Excitement reduces, maybe fewer people go because they can just stay at home - whack it on Kayo in delay and fast forward through the shite. - I do. Same with the Wozel. I mean FFS really - lets get the judges..... get the AI in... GET A LIFE and just watch the best surfers in the world having a go - to try and do anything else, unless you're embedded into the bureaucracy and politics of the BUSINESS of surfing - is pointless. I got a video of my son doing a 360 at the wave pool last week and it nearly broke my heart. Haha

bbbird's picture
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bbbird Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 7:38pm

Judges smudges.
A huge gaping error is that the pro surfers & judges are not requesting to Dirk Ziff's World Surf League, that the superbank comp be run in cyclone /tradewind season.... imagine the show & ratings

"A consistent tradeswell, four-surfer heats, and a clock counting down to zero..."

If he cyclone gets tooo close,...
Redbull Jetskis' & big eskis could assist in Lismore's next big flood rescues...
Flood rescue training video below

dan@shoreline's picture
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dan@shoreline Friday, 3 May 2024 at 5:41pm

Best wave on the planet? Kirra, the level of surfing from the average Joe out there is….unreal, such a fast technical wave, it’s my favourite to watch these guys ripping it

nextswell's picture
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nextswell Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 7:09pm

Always thought the wsl and it’s judges had an agenda. A head judge wielding a scoring range for the other 4 judges hardly shows any sort of independence or independence.

rooftop's picture
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rooftop Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 7:18pm

Probably just a dumb error under pressure like looking at the wrong wave when making the score.

In order to improve consistency generally, they should aim to reduce both noise and bias. Having an average score of five judges is a good model, as the errors tend to average out, provided they are completely independent. If not, there is a known tendency for group dynamics to sway the outcome.

Having general top-down guidance from a non-judge (i.e. the head judge) to clarify and reinforce judging criteria is also a good idea, as it will reduce between-judge score deviation and between-wave score deviation.

Additionally, if the scores are showing a general bias (too high or too low) then general directions from the head judge could help to correct that. This was what the departing head judge said in the recent SN interview anyway, and it made better me appreciate the role of a head judge. Previously I'd thought of them as a contaminating factor in the scoring system, but it made me realise how leadership from a good one could improve outcomes.

Far out, I'm still at work, listen to me... Come on Huey, come back to WA!

dumpy's picture
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dumpy Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 7:23pm

i’d like to see the right to post-fix scores. i think a Vans or Volcom event had that capability.

bbbird's picture
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bbbird Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 8:37pm

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 9:28pm

A consistent trade-swell, four- surfer heats, and a clock counting down to zero!
Bingo! And that right there Gromz, is why us crew bow down to #1 Surf Journo Stu!

Poses the right Question & answers it before WSL Head Judge knows the score!
With the switch from ASP to Diva CT saw reduction in surfers & length of rides.
Hot Spot era frame the exact same pocket @ each icon break...
Whole world of Kooks pack bags & jet to the CT Hot Spot...then stake their Claim.
Surf Rage on Roids....

Never reward outta bank rides nor longer inshore leg burners...
Crew saw this coming with WSL divas @ the Ranch...My legs are burning!
Ai Ranch Bunker Judges granted 90 sec wee breaks!
Reefer Madness CT needs 4 weeks for 3 surfer heats with 5 minute Lulls...
Judges only need 4 minutes to score each ride more poorly...

After 5 Reefer Madness Spliffs the circus pitches their Tent on Motor City Madness.
Judges stick heads outta their Bunkers & get smashed by Superbank 4x4 Freight Trains.
All commentators "Cam missed the Start of that 2nd ride...again...again...again...again...
Ask the Judges...We also missed that 2nd/3rd ride...again, again, again...on & on & on!
It won't stop spinning boss ya got 2/3/4 Pros linking 3/4/5 moves on the same wave train.
Gotta unplug the Juke Box to rewind the VHS & thaw out the Freeze Frame...

Is there a better way...
Well...WSL also train Their Wave Pool Judges and they make the perfect judges.
Not one CT tour finals day would rank in Top 10 wave pool comp Finals Day scores.

Reason being each judge is give a warning / Wave + either a Skip wave or set lull.
Plenty of time to set & ready!
Each surfer...surfs same wave better each heat progressing higher scores into final rounds.
Yes! All rather robotic & is supposed to dumb everything down but it don't!
It naturally draws surfers closer and closer towards the Hooter...
Perfect Olympic Jock Format is there on show here with perfect exciting finishes!

2024 WSL Urbnsurf QS Finals Everything goes to Plan
(Just watch both M/F finals for Presentation Judging & Hot surfing)
Chix have best surfing coming into the Final...
[2:01:50] Chix Finale has insane Surfing / Judging last wave killer finish!
[2:14 :25] Men's Final 1st Wave Explosion Wow!
[2:14:40] Ride End WOTD
[2:15:34] Judges Score [ 9.50 ] Perfect / Timing.
Need to loop 4x Big Perfect Moves to crack 9 points.
[2:15 :40] Next Surfer Up & Riding
Ya see : People only see what they wanna clockwork...very professional it is!
Natural competitor makes a solid comeback but then the Goof goes Animal again...OMG!
Bookends a final blast [9.37] Again...perfect Judging rewards 4x Cracking Loop moves
Score came a little slower > after Natural Competitor's last ride but he's still in line-up!
Only coz the surfing was shit like trying to shave a Pair of 10's which was better!
Judges did not mark these scores up...they be spot on...all round under pressure in each final! You'll see!

So not quite perfect but very good judging format / Presentation ~ setting new WSL benchmark.
Chix Commentary is exciting...she's got it goin' on...brilliant insightful calls! Bloke goes spazz...Stoked!

Sure! It's just a Wave Pool QS Final but not seen any dreamy CT / CS final Combo better it for Yonks!
Just sayin' it pays to look around & not to assume Wave Pools Comps are any less exciting.
Not always about the most CT / CS finals days are held in blown out slop anyway!

poo-man's picture
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poo-man Thursday, 2 May 2024 at 9:27pm

I think they just got too far behind and ended up making a mistake and remembering or replaying the wrong wave. At times they just need to get their scores in quicker. The first look is generally the right one and with 4 in the water they quite often took way too long to post scores. Some heats had hardly any waves ridden and others had up to 30. I'm bothered by some of the other scores in that heat and tend to think Nat should have been second. I also think Ian Gentil and Kolohe have good reason to be aggrieved as well. Entire careers swing on these judging calls and they need to be fast and decisive and more than anything accurate. I'm happy for each judge to see it as they see it without the HJ chiming in much but we'd then get larger ranges between the high and low score. I'm OK with that. Any judge that's consistently out gets cut just like the old days

batfink's picture
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batfink Sunday, 5 May 2024 at 9:19am

First impressions are often best. Every judge should write down a score independently as soon as they see it. A few replays for adjustment. Head judge should stfu.

An occasional comment here and there, ok, but not giving a score range or overdoing it. Say for Nate’s wave, if it was the same turn 5 times, sure point that out, as long as your criteria says ‘variety’.

Having 5 judges with a head judge commenting on every wave is pretty much the same as having 1 judge only.

57's picture
57's picture
57 Friday, 3 May 2024 at 2:27am

Give AI all the specs to judge and see what it says. cough cough

batfink's picture
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batfink Sunday, 5 May 2024 at 9:20am

AI, pfffttttt!

The AI advocates can’t wait for the day they can officially turn their brains off.

Already have.

57's picture
57's picture
57 Sunday, 5 May 2024 at 1:31pm


David Hunt's picture
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David Hunt Monday, 6 May 2024 at 11:29am

AI is nuts. All over the shop at best, with no concept of feel. It will turn into Kelly wavepool boredom but perfection and destroy interest. I would rather see human foibles

57's picture
57's picture
57 Monday, 6 May 2024 at 12:26pm

def agree on Kelly boredom... I threw it out there because seems like things are going down the drain anyway.

benjis babe's picture
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benjis babe Friday, 3 May 2024 at 6:53am

it happens from the top down, the judging in the qs is disgraceful, unless you are part of the hpc talent squad, your scores are very underscored in fact im pretty sure they have already decided who is going to win despite the surfing that is being is a rich boys club

Robwilliams's picture
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Robwilliams Friday, 3 May 2024 at 11:33am

if thats the case benjis babe, thats fucken lame. Seen the same thing in regards to local comps somewhat to a different degree at certain times. It's heaviest waves ridden and made, and heaviest moves made for me. But i'm well outside the comp scene.

David Hunt's picture
David Hunt's picture
David Hunt Monday, 6 May 2024 at 11:26am

Follow the money

David Hunt's picture
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David Hunt Monday, 6 May 2024 at 11:15am

The waves are longer than usual on the Goldie and there can be 2 or 3 surfers riding at the same time. That would make it harder for normal eyesight assessments,
That being said, I have been thinking for the last 12 months there was always a bias to over award to the Big Board Company Riders. A recent interview with Cheyne Horan, kinda confirmed it for me, with Cheyne's experience with Lightning Bolt and its Riders (for 2 years he thought he was under unbiased judging till it was pointed out the 4 out of 5 judges were connected to Lightning Bolt