Becoming a professional surfer through competition looks like the dream but pros like Stephanie Gilmore had to fight through multiple steps to get to the Championship level. Here we look at how it works, plus who has made it through to this year’s WSL Final which will be held at Trestles 8-16 September.

Words: Beth Franklin Phtos: WSL

Millions of surfers across the world would kill for the opportunity to compete as a professional for a living. However, for the world stage it comes down the top 18 women, and 36 men. To get to that point surfers must go through years of rigorous training and as well as performing well on the Challenger and Qualifying Series.
When it comes to approaching the world of competitive surfing it can be intimidating, there are several different tours and contests that can get you where you dream of being, however it’s hard to know where to start. The WSL is comprised of Tours & Events, celebrating the world’s best surfers across all disciplines and annually running more than 180 global contests and crowning the undisputed World Champions across all divisions.

For the average surfer, many will know the World Surf League and follow the Championship Tour watching the likes Carissa Moore dominate the industry at the best waves in the world. The Championship Tour is the top dog of competitive surfing, features the top 54 surfers as they compete at ten of the best surf breaks across the world.
In recent years the tour saw drastic changes to its schedule and way of working with the introduction of the mid-season cut. Halfway through the season, the field is reduced to 22 men and 10 women. The top-ranked surfers will advance to the second half of the tour, where they will be joined by two men’s and two women’s wildcards (one season wildcard and one event wildcard) and automatically requalify for the next year’s CT.

The recent surf documentary Surf Girls Hawaii shone a light on the trials and tribulations of being a competitive surfer, as well as introducing a wider audience to the Hawaiian surf competition circuit. The show explored the career of four female surfers coming up on the rankings Hawaii, including Moana Jones-Wong (above), who gained a wild card entry to the first Women’s Pipe Masters and went on to win the whole event.

Jones-Wong’s historic win brought a new level to wild card entries and shed light on the talent outside of the Championship Tour, showing that the underdogs can take on the elite. wildcard surfers are those that get an invitation to compete against the world’s best at a particular event. According to the WSL website: “Wildcards are given entry into competition because of their skill, knowledge and past performances at a venue, or a win at a local trial’s competition. A wildcard’s goal is to win heats and disrupt the top power brokers on Tour.”

Overall, The actual competition system for each event is similar throughout each of the competitive rankings. At each event surfers will be divided into 2-3 people heats. Throughout each of their heats each surfer will be able to catch as many waves as possible, but only their top two scoring waves will count towards their total score. The surfer with the most points will advance to the next round of heats until the final two surfers are left. Depending on what stage each surfer manages to advance to they will be allocated points that will count to their overall ranking for the season.


The World Surf League (WSL) Final 5 have been decided and are set to compete at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, California, at the Rip Curl WSL Finals, the one-day winner-take-all event to crown the World Champions. This year’s WSL Final 5 features a mix of World Champions and Tour newcomers, all eager to take home the 2023 World Titles. The competition holds a window between September 8 – 16, and will run on the best day of waves determined by the WSL Tours and Competition team.
Each finalist earned their place in the Rip Curl WSL Finals based on competition results during the ten 2023 regular-season Championship Tour (CT) events. Now, the Top 5 women from those leaderboard rankings will battle it out for the World Title.

Five-time World Champion Carissa Moore (HAW) will return as the top seed. Moore will be joined by two-time World Champion Tyler Wright (AUS) and a field of up-and-coming women: Caroline Marks (USA), Molly Picklum (AUS), and Caitlin Simmers (USA), who are all hoping to earn their first World Titles.
Last year’s competition saw Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) win her historic eighth World Title after starting the event as the No. 5 seed, showing all Final 5 contenders what’s possible in the WSL Finals.

Watch LIVE

The event window for the Rip Curl WSL Finals opens on September 8 and holds a competition window through September 16, 2023. The event will be broadcast LIVE on, the WSL’s YouTube channel, and the free WSL app. Check out more ways to watch from the WSL’s broadcast partners.