Judging a freestyle skateboarding contest can be daunting but, worry not, LateTricks is here to help! Check out some of our top tips for how to fairly judge the most subjective skateboarding discipline and having fun while you do it!

It’s a situation that I’m sure many competitive freestylers have found themselves faced with at some point – it’s the day of the contest and the organisers are in need of judges. You find yourself having the discussion, “can you be a judge today?”

It can be daunting, but worry not: LateTricks is here to help! We thought we would put together some insight into what will be expected of you as a judge, the decisions you’ll be facing and how to make sure you are a fair and impartial judge, without stifling your own opinions.

Getting Started

Freestyle is unquestionably one of the most difficult disciplines of skateboarding to judge, with the wide range of tricks and styles, along with the potential for highly subjective opinions, meaning that there is a lot that judges will have to consider.

The judging of a contest will always be scrutinised by freestyle fanatics, but it’s important to know that everyone has (and is rightly entitled to) their own opinion – including you! So if anyone ever questions how you judged something, as long as you believe that the score that you gave is fair, then you can stand by it!

Judging Styles

So, now that we’ve confirmed that you are an excellent person, it’s time to delve into what you’ll actually be doing as a judge. There are several systems that are currently in use, which broadly include the following:

Overall Impression

  • A style of judging where a single score between 0 and 100 is given following a routine. Widely regarded as the least accurate method of judging and now largely being phased out.

Five Categories (UKFSA style)

  • A long-standing system of judging that is largely known as the UKFSA style. Skaters are scored on five categories (style, technicality/difficulty, originality, variety and consistency), each of which is typically marked out of either 20 or 100.

Five Categories (International style)

  • This style of judging tends to use the same five categories as the UKFSA style; however, each judge will only be focused on one category. Offers benefits with consistent judging but can result in one judge having a greater say in the overall results.

Complicated Systems

  • Systems such as those used at Euro Freestyle and contests in Japan, where most specific aspects of a routine are under more intense scrutiny. This setup can arrange from one event to the next but loosely follows the five categories system.

If you’ve been called upon at the last minute, the likelihood is that you’ll be using some variation of the five categories system, so for the purpose of this piece, we’re going to focus on getting you ready to use this system!

Judging Panels and Being a Skater/Judge

For any contest, there will usually be between three and five judges. With three judges, all three judges will be combined (or averaged, it’s ultimately the same) for a final score. With four judges, this may also be the case; however, if peer judging is in place (where the judges are also skating in the contest), only three scores may be counted for a judge who is also competing, with the scores of all four judges being averaged for other skaters.

Five judges is the optimal number, as this presents organisers with the most options for judging. Typically, the highest and lowest scores will be dropped (in an effort to minimise any potential bias), but all five scores could potentially be added together, if preferred. In the instance that peer judging is in place, when a judge is competing, the highest and lowest scores will be averaged and combined with the remaining two scores.

It is important to know that if you are judging and skating that your placement is not impacted by you judging, whether that means unfairly winning or placing lower than you deserve. As such, it is important to make sure that all judges are on the same page before a contest begins. If time allows, judge a few runs together (using our excellent (if we do say so ourselves) contest run archive) and discuss your scores after each run. By the end, hopefully all of your scores will be relatively similar.

Judging the Five Categories

So, this is the meat of the article and, most likely, what you skipped ahead to read! Here are some of the key things you need to consider when scoring each category – and remember, there is no right or wrong: if you can justify a score, then you give it! For the sake of this article, all categories will be marked out of 20, but if you’re scoring out of 100, just multiply your scores by five!

Judging Consistency

Consistency is a key factor of a solid freestyle routine and often one of the main deciders in a high-placing run. Of the five categories, this is perhaps the easiest to judge, but there is still flexibility in the way this is scored.

The World Round UpUnlike other categories, you’ll want to start with a score of 20 and reduce this figure for any inconsistencies. Typically, a step off is -1 and a fall is either -2 (if the skater loses the board entirely or falls slightly) or, in rare instances, -3 (where the skater loses the board and completely falls to the ground).

Consideration could also be given for sketchiness in tricks or footwork, which could be reduced by 0.5 (I know organisers hate non-whole numbers, but they can’t stop you now, you’re already judging!) or for a whole point for 2-3 instances, as you see fit.

A perfect run is also a rarity and should deserve some recognition. The easiest way to reflect this is to reduce the overall score by an additional 1 or 2 points after the first step off/bail. The decision on whether this should be 1 or 2 points is dependent on how important you think consistency is, and could be discussed with other judges prior to a contest.

Judging Technicality

Technicality is one of the more opinion-based areas of consideration, meaning that scores in this area can vary drastically from one judge to the next. As this isn’t ideal for ensuring consistency in judging, here are some things you can consider to make sure that all the judges are on the same page.

For this category, you will need to consider the difficulty of each trick performed by a skater in a routine. This is where the subjectivity comes in, as different tricks are more or less difficult for different people. For example, if you ask any of the truck transfer skaters whether a thrown sidewinder or carousel is more difficult, you can get a surprising mix of results!

So, how to deal with this? Well, for a start, a good knowledge of freestyle tricks is essential. You don’t need to know every trick and you don’t need to be able to do them, but an understanding of the mechanics of them will be beneficial.

Some tricks are easy to consider – a double kickflip is more difficult than a single, and a triple is more difficult than a double, and so on. Any trick where the board flips (rather than spins or doesn’t do either) also tends to be more difficult, as this creates a higher risk of falling. Anything landed to cross-foot, one foot or into rail/casper/50/50 also requires more precision, and should be reflected in the scoring.

As we approach the top end of difficulty scores, more consideration tends to be necessary to reflect the complexity. Extra spins and rotations, as well as awkward and complex foot positionings or landings, will be particularly key here. Less common tricks can also be indicative of their difficulty, with a rudimentary knowledge of tricks further informing how difficult it is.

With a flat score out of 20, you will almost need to take an ‘overall impression’ approach to scoring this. This can be tough, but a good way to consider this can be reflecting on the technicality of key tricks and the ratio of difficult to easy tricks.

Grey areas can include combinations – if the last trick of a five-trick combo is bailed, should the combo be counted at all? This can be discussed with other judges, but the overall consensus is that the combo should be included until the point it was failed; however, the scores for the combo should be docked due to it not being executed in full.

Technicality is most likely the most challenging category to get right, so don’t feel like you can’t talk this through with other judges and, if you can, make sure to practice before a contest!

Judging Variety

A wide variety of tricks is an important factor in a successful run as this demonstrates a skater’s all-round mastery of freestyle. Taking Euro Freestyle (and, as a result, Freestyle Trick Tips) as an example, there are 12 main categories of trick, which are as follows:

  • Caspers
  • Fingerflips
  • Footwork
  • Kickflips
  • Ollie tricks
  • 50/50 and pogo tricks
  • Rail tricks
  • Shuvits
  • Wheelies
  • Handstands
  • Impossibles
  • Oddities (pressureflips, underflips, no complies, etc.)

So, you may think that simply adding a point on for each trick type than multiplying the total by 1.66 (ok, maybe not simply) would be the logical way to judge this; however, that is not the case. There are numerous factors that need to be considered within each of these categories (nollie, switch, fakie, no-handed 50/50, handed 50/50 TS/HS rail, etc.) that make this more than a straightforward box ticking exercise.

Freestyle Skateboarding Judging - Guenter Mokulys

Instead, the best way to look at this is from a broadly ‘overall impression’ standpoint. You want to see a skater hitting a range of these categories without relying too heavily on a single type of trick.

A middling score of 10, for example, should see a skater hitting between 4 and 6 of the categories, without any particular type of trick accounting for over 30% to 50% of a run. A high score of 20 would incorporate between 8 and 12 trick categories, with a variety in each of these and no particular trick accounting for over 20% to 30% of a run.

Perhaps we’re making this sound more complex than it is, as this is possibly the easiest category to score. Scoring in this area will generally become apparent as a contest progresses, and if you’re already practiced in advance you’ll be absolutely fine!

Judging Originality

Banana. What an original way to start a sentence! But, was it a good way?

This is the kind of thought process you’ll need to apply to originality. There are several ways to look at originality, with the main ones being as follows:

Are the tricks entirely new or have they never been performed in a contest before?

  • Tricks falling under this definition deserve to be score very highly, as this shows a significant risk being taken, which deserves to be rewarded. Whilst this should score high, you should also make sure to consider –

Are the tricks we haven’t seen before technically difficult or complex?

  • Brand new tricks can be difficult to consider in terms of complexity, as they haven’t been assessed before and can’t be prepared for, so it is important to consider the physics and motions behind a trick. For example, if one or both feet are down, balancing will be easier, so the technical difficulty would be lower.

Are the tricks being performed, while not unique, only being performed by one or a small number of skaters?

  • NASS Freestyle Demo 2015 - Denham HillWhilst the days of obligatory tricks are long past us, there are still many tricks that are routinely performed in many runs. Such tricks could include kickflips, BS 360 shuvits and so on. So if a skater starts to perform less common (but not necessarily more or less difficult tricks), such as 360 kickflips or FS 360 shuvits, this should also be considered. Medium-to-high-level signature tricks being performed either by the skater they are associated with or another skater should also score well.

The overriding of these three factors will typically be the latter, owing to the increasing difficulty of showcasing entirely unique tricks. Even without brand new tricks, it is still possible for a skater to score well in this category if their run stands apart from their competitors’ with lots of tricks that they are unique in performing.

Judging Style

Ok, so, this is a biggie. And also, the most contentious.

Style matters, as the saying goes, but how is style determined? This is something that is unique to each skater and uniquely perceived by everyone watching them. Despite this, there are still some aspects of style that can be considered from a largely objective perspective, which include:

  • Landings
    • Are the tricks being landed cleanly? Does the skater have good foot placements and are they able to control their upper body?
  • Speed
    • Are tricks being performed at an appropriate or energetic speed? Are they aware of their surrounding or do they run out of room?
  • Use of Space
    • How much of the floor is being covered? Is the skater making use of the full space?
  • Synchronisation
    • Are tricks being lined up either loosely or precisely with musical cues? Is this intentional?
  • Consistency
    • Consistency again? Yes, consistency again! Falling off does not a stylish run make.
  • Linking tricks
    • Are tricks being linked together with footwork? Does the run come together as a single routine, rather than a group of tricks?

Whilst these are all factors to consider, the lion’s share of the style points should be determined by how well a skate flows and how comfortable they look on their board. If all the tricks are linked together, the skater’s movements look effortless and they land everything they want to land, the way they want to land it, looking good while they do it, then it’s hard not to give a great score.

This category is, therefore, almost entirely subjective. Whilst you can discuss certain aspects of a run with other judges in advance, and there are a number of obvious cues that cannot be overlooked, scoring a skater’s style will be unique to each judge.

Final Thoughts

So, that was probably a lot to take in (and certainly more than we considered when we started writing up this article), but this should give you a relatively comprehensive insight into judging processes that will help you to hit the ground running!

Professional Freestyle SkateboardersWe can’t tell you outright any decisions you need to make or opinions that you need to have – those are entirely your own! This support has been provided based on our attendance of over 25 contests, insight from judges at these contests and an assessment of historical contests dating back over 40 years, so it should give you at least the foundations to start making choices that you’re happy with!

We will be following up this article with some judging examples that you could score along with us (hopefully within the near future) and if you have any questions, head over to our Facebook page and drop us a message; we’d be happy to help (and we may be late coming back to our messages but we will try to come back to them as soon as we see them!)

Disclaimer (I know)

So, I hear your voices cry, “skateboarding is all about self-expression and cannot be judged.”

Well, being totally honest, that is absolutely right. How you skate is entirely up to you and you don’t need to listen to anyone, judges or otherwise, about how to change your skateboarding if you don’t want to. You don’t have to respect contests, or even think they should take place at all, but this is just some friendly guidance to help new judges who want to take part! Just enjoy skateboarding for what it is to you, no-one can take that away from you!

A Beginner’s Guide to Judging