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Billabong Pipe Masters 2012 on right now - Surf Contests for Beginners

Surfing is an amazing sport, we all know that. Whether you are a practitioner or not, it seems like everyone involved in the boardsports lifestyle has a deep respect for surfers and the ocean in general. And with good reason. Even the smallest wave packs enough energy inside itself to make the burliest dude feel like a wimp. But that's also the best part about surfing, for the small price of admission of a magazine packed full of glossy photos, anyone can be surfing waves like a champ in seconds... that's how it feels anyways. 

Another rad thing about surfing is that unlike a lot of other sports, it's actually considered cool to compete on the world tour. And every few weeks the best surfers in the world convene at the most exotic locations imaginable and battle it out in heats to win the event, all while amassing points for the much respected ASP World Title. Ever heard of Kelly Slater? I thought so. He's the 11-time World Title winner who at 40-years old regularly hands surfers half his age their asses, and is in the running for his 12th title right now. He's battling against Joel Parkinson, an Aussie who's had the title slip through his hands multiple times but never won.

And unlike other sports where you're lucky to catch some X-Games reruns on TV months after the fact, the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals, ie. the guys who organize the tour) go out of their way to make sure everyone can watch all the action by providing an incredibly professional-quality live feed of all the events streamed live on their website. It's really amazing that they not only pull this off but go the whole nine-yards with live announcers and analysis, and tons of perfect camera angles including live shots from jetskis floating in the channel of massive waves. It's pretty much like watching NFL on a Sunday, but you're watching the best surfers in the world conquer some of the gnarliest waves on the planet. Well, that's the idea anyways... sometimes the waves are shit and they have to run the contest in knee-high swell. Either way, you're pretty much guaranteed a few nice bikini shots.

I was able to watch this guy, Gabriel Medina, surf this wave yesterday from my couch. Don't tell me that's not fucking rad.

Live stats and tons of other information are also provided on-screen, which can be overwhelming for those of us who aren't necessarily super familiar with how it all works. So I decided to sit down for an afternoon of watching the Pipe Masters live yesterday with a buddy who was more into the scene and let him explain to me the basics, and thought I'd share the most important parts so everyone can know what the heck is going on while watching the Billabong Pipe Masters 2012, which is on right now until December 20th.

Here's my attempt at breaking it down as much as possible. 

Waiting period: Events do not have set dates. Rather there are blocks of time (one or two weeks usually) set aside where everyone basically hangs out and the contest only gets run on the days with the best waves. 

Heats: There are multiple rounds of heats with 2 surfers going head to head until only two are left to battle for the win.

Paddling and broken boards: Heats start with the surfers on the beach and when it begins they have to paddle out into position to catch waves. If they break their board, they have to paddle in to get a new one and then paddle back out. This sucks up a lot of time but happens a lot, especially on the bigger waves.

Priority: One surfer of the two always has "priority", which means he has the choice of waves and the other surfer cannot go for a wave unless the surfer with priority is clearly not going for it. This is where a lot of strategy comes into play and some surfers are more sneaky than others when it comes to "fake paddling" for waves and other tactics to mess with their opponent. Who has priority is basically determined by who got out first, and then goes to the next guy every time you catch or clearly go for a wave.

Scoring: This is obviously a very deep topic but the important things to know are that waves are scored on a 0-10 scale. Surfers can catch, and have scored, as many waves as they can fit into a heat but only the top two count, are combined, and the surfer with the most points wins the heat. Perfect-10 waves are not all that uncommon and can be achieved by cleanly riding a perfect barrel as easily as on a 2-foot wave packed with tons of style-ey moves and tech tricks like airs and spins. The official ASP Judging Criteria reads:

Judges analyze the following major elements when scoring waves:

  • Commitment and Degree of Difficulty
  • Innovative and Progressive Manoeuvres
  • Combination of Major Manoeuvres
  • Variety of Manoeuvres
  • Speed, Power and Flow

* It is important to note that the emphasis on certain elements is contingent upon the location and the conditions on the day, as well as changes of conditions during the day.

When the contest is running, there are tons of live heat stats, countdown timers and lots more going on to give you the full picture.

OK, there you have it. Definitely not a complete list by any means but hopefully enough to get you on your way to watching the live webcast a little bit more enjoyably. Personally, even if I don't know every surfer by name or know who the hot-guy of the moment is, it's always more fun to know what's going on, especially considering how much punishment some of these guys are taking.

Now click here and hope the surf is pumping today in Hawaii.