Richie Porta - ASP World Tour Head Judge
When and where did you start to surf?
I grew up in Victoria, but I started surfing when I was about 8 or 9 at Arrawarra, north of Coffs Harbour. I used to play a lot of AFL football, I remember this one day clearly, I was playing in a suburban under 18’s game and the surf was absolutely pumping that day but here I was in the middle of a football field getting punched in the back of the head and what not, and that was when I decided that these other sports weren’t for me. The best thing about surfing is that you’re in it for life. Once you get going as a grommet, you’re set. When you’re in, you’re in.
Do you have a favourite surf spot?
It would still have to be 1st car park Gunnamatta. I’ve surfed some of the world’s best waves but for me my favourite is still my home break. Another favourite would be sunset in Hawaii. I live on the beach there for 6 weeks at the end of the year during Triple Crown.
What is your go-to board at the moment?
I’ve been riding this Mayhem 6’0 sub driver. It’s a shortboard with a bit of width in it. I actually acquired it by default. I’d been riding Channel Islands for a couple of years then a mate in California gave me this thinking I’d like it and it’s seriously my favourite board of all time.
How many boards do you take on tour with you?
It depends where we are. In Hawaii we have a quiver that we leave there that has everything from a 9 foot board down to a 7’4. At the last 2 events at Margaret River and Bells I had a 6’10 backup then Brasil I’ll just take one board, Fiji I’ll take a couple, California and places like that I’ll probably take just the one board.
Do you have a favourite stop on the tour?
Each place is different. There’s not one place on tour that I dislike. I really like Pipe because we get to stay there for about 6 weeks rather than setting up camp for 10 days like at the other events, it’s the closest we come to a normal life in that time. Fiji is also a favourite.
What kind of education have you had?
I went to Mentone Grammar then Woodleigh College and left in year 11. I became a landscape gardener after school.
How did you transition from landscaping to judging surfing?
With judging in Australia the system is that you start by judging at your local board club, then you do the state rounds and try to get a start at national level. Back when I started it was all volunteer work, so you would compete in your division, get out of the water, get changed and then go and judge the next heat. I did that for a while and then went from there. It would have been in 1994 when I judged my first Australian titles in Newcastle, then in 96, I went on my first ASP gig, I did all the regional comps in Indonesia and Australia, then became the local judge at Bells, then they got me travelling a bit more. 9 years ago I was made the women’s tour head judge and now this is my 5th year as the world tour head judge. I’ve been travelling since 96 as a judge but it’s been a full time gig for the last 9 years.
What is your favourite part of the job?
Being involved in the top level of the sport I love. It’s a really challenging dynamic position adjudicating over the worlds best surfers on the worlds best waves. If you cant be one of them, you might as well be involved in some way because it really is the best show going around. There’s something inspiring about being surrounded by these surfers. We hear a lot about free surfers and the guys who don’t bother with the tour out there doing amazing stuff but to me they don’t even compare to the pro’s. Also, it gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of great people from around the world who share your passion. Plus we get to surf the best waves in the world!
What is the worst part of the job?
Being away from your family is probably the hardest thing about it. Not being able to sort certain things out at home because I’m sitting over in Brazil somewhere. My kids are old enough now to look after themselves, but over the years things have happened that I haven’t been able to do anything about, and it sucked. Plus all the birthdays, celebrations and other family occasions that you miss really rack up. The plane trips that take more than 10 hours also take some getting used to.
Is there anybody who has influenced you in your career?
The biggest influence for me in terms of judging would be my predecessor Perry Hatchet. He got me the job as the women’s head judge and allowed me to make a name for myself. But I don’t feel that there is anybody that I owe anything to, it’s one of those things where if you’re good at it you will stick around, and if you’re not then you wont. Simple as that.
Away from the position itself, my partner has been a great personal influence to me in a lot of ways.
There is a lot of opinion, criticism and controversy that circulates about judging after every event. Do you take notice of this?
A couple of million people watch an event on any given day, in these online forums etc. there’s going to be always be a percentage of people who disagree with what we do. I get in a lot of conversations about what we do and some of our decisions and the first thing I ask people is ‘were you at the beach?’ and if they weren’t then there isn’t really much we can talk about. If you’re sitting on the beach watching the whole playing field you will see a whole different scenario to what the camera shows. We work with the replays to shape our decisions and we can see what tricks the camera plays and how it emphasizes and deemphasizes certain things. My one job is to give surfers the right score for what they have done. It’s not my job to interact with fans or take sides.
In regard to the subjective nature of the job, that last wave of Jordy Smith's Round 5 heat at Bells for example; where 3 judges scored him a 10 and the others didn’t, and he didn’t quite get the score he needed, in that situation are you scoring the wave, the situation, or the degree of difficulty regarding the surfers ability?
I spoke to Jordy after it and I told him that I didn’t think it was a 10. I wasn’t judging that heat however. It came about because Julian’s wave was 9.1. The guys had to keep that in mind when scoring Jordy, so some were saying yes, that was point 9 better wave than Julian’s and others disagreed. His was early in the heat and Jordy’s was in the last minute so in that situation they watch the replays and make their decision. That’s where the subjective nature comes in. Last year out of the 510 heats, 96 of them were decided by less than 3 quarters of a point. That minor margin happens all the time and it’s just a case of comparing the wave with the standard set by the other scoring waves in that heat. We have our first look, we watch replays, we re-analyse, we decide on a score and then we take the criticism from the surfers and the people at the beach. Jordy and his people might argue that it was a 10 but if you go and speak to Julian and his people they would disagree wouldn’t they. There are always two sides. It’s human nature to criticize what we can’t control. I have a lot more important things to do than trawl the Internet for opinions on what we are doing.
Do you have much say over the judging criteria over the year or a particular event?
We had a bit of to-and-fro with the surfers last year and it all stems from that. They’re the surfers that are being judged so we take their direction as a collective group. We’ve adjusted the scoring and scaled it down this year. I’m friends with Steve Brown who used to head judge snowboarding halfpipe competitions and I studied how they did things there when I first got the job. You make a small mistake in that sport and you’re way off from the rest of the pack because you’re competing on the same course as everyone else and really need to do something incredible to stand out. So when I came in as the head judge I decided to drop the scale because it was way too easy to get 10’s at that time. Scaling down the scoring promotes better surfing at the end of the day. We did it with the women’s a few years ago and now we’ve done it with the guys. If you want the big scores now you have to surf as hard as you can and it’s much better for the sport. In terms of criteria, we focus on different aspects at the different locations. Places like Bells and Snapper allow us to judge an overall wave because of the nature of the wave and the opportunities for all kinds of tricks and maneuvers, whereas at places like Teahupoo and Pipeline it’s all about barrels.
Do you have any advice for anybody looking to get into judging?
In this country we’re lucky. Surfing Australia offers a judging course and program that is designed to get you on the right track with the right experience at the right events. You need a backup job while you’re working your way up the ranks. There’s only a handful of us who do this full time, there are a lot doing in part time. We have X amount of events and Y amount of judges. It’s a rewarding career, but very challenging, pressure filled and subjective.
Where can we find you online?
Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on May 7, 2014
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