The Ultimate List of Surfing World Champions

Kicking a Hornets Nest!

I had no idea just how explosive an innocuous conversation over dinner could become. The conversation I refer to was with a few close friends and regarded surfing world champions.

I simply, and without prejudice, asked the diners to rank their top five surfing world champions, male and female.

Every surfer to have won a world title

It was fascinating to hear the difference of opinion regarding who the table thought were amazing champions. It was equally intriguing to hear those that weren’t considered to be quite as good.

However the previously calm occasion soon descended into a raucous affair.

After a cacophony of surfing world champions names were called out, and people’s opinions on their friends choices were well represented, a truce was called. We decided to team up and rank every surfing world champion in order of greatness. Pen and paper were fetched and we went to work.

An hour later we had failed. The paper was a scrawled mess with names scribbled out and written over. We had no definitive list and resigned ourselves to the fact that we simply would not agree. We’d each come up with our own surfing world champions rankings, but they differed so much that common ground was unachievable.

The Ultimate List of Surfing World Champions – A Survey

I couldn’t let it go however and spent the next day thinking how I could collate our choices into the ultimate list of surfing world champions. It was genuinely exciting to find out how the list would develop.

A decision was made to take the names of the 21 surfers who have held the mens world title and the 15 surfers who won the female crown, and put them into a piece of survey software. I then emailed the survey out to dozens of friends, colleagues, social media contacts, and anyone I thought would have an interest in completing it. They ranged from current and former pro surfers, die hard surf fans, surfing historians, and surfers with an interest in the world tour.

The survey included every world champion since 1976

Respondents could simply drag and drop the surfers into ranking order and when they were happy with the list hit the complete button. The software then crunched the numbers and provided a leaderboard of world champions.

I asked the guys to rank the surfers according to how impressive the surfer was during their era, at their prime. To consider how many times they won the title, how many back to back titles they won and how strong the field was during their reign of dominance. What I was trying to avoid was a cross generation situation like “would Kelly Slater have beaten Rabbit Bartholemew?”

If you would like to have a crack at the survey I would love to see your own personal rankings. Check it out here. I will update the ultimate list of surfing world champions as and when changes in the rankings take place.

A Fantastic Response 

The feedback was amazing. Responses ranged from “that was really fun” to “my whole evening was taken up doing your damn survey, I must’ve re-jigged my top five like twenty times!” I’d like to say thank you to each and every one of the people who took the time to complete the survey.

It was awesome to see how people interpreted the rankings. How a surfer would be a clear top 5 on one list, yet rank a lowly 13th on others.

The Ultimate List of Surfing World Champions

Mens Rankings

Here we have the greatest men’s surfing world champions ranked from 21st to 1st place.

Womens Rankings

Here we have the greatest women’s surfing world champions ranked from 15th to 1st place.

Do You Agree?

Obviously ranking the surfing world champions in order of greatness is subjective. The lists above are the result of dozens of submissions from a broad range of surfers, but I would love to hear your thoughts! Why not comment below or alternatively don’t forget that you can submit your own choices on the survey page. I will update the rankings as and when changes occur.

The 30 Best Surfers Ever

Why not head over to the fantastic article The 30 Best Surfers Ever and see how many of our ranked world champions feature!