Judge & Jury

The riding on this year's Supra Boats Pro Wakeboard Tour was nothing short of unbelievable. In fact, it can easily be argued that the 2017 season was the best yet. It was far more competitive and consistent than ever before. For the fans, that is perfect. More high-quality riding with competitive drama just means more entertainment; but for the judges, it's a different story. In the high-stakes environment of events like the PWT, it's critical for the judges to get things right — and with a field of riders who are more competitive than ever, that has become increasingly harder to do.

Supra Boats Pro Wakeboard TourBill Doster

The second stop of the 2017 tour is a perfect example of just how cutthroat the riding has become in the professional ranks — not to mention how progressive. The final round at Mantua, Utah, might have been one of the most closely contested in the history of the PWT, with first and third place separated by a mere 0.43 points. To put it another way, Cory Teunissen came in fourth place in Utah after landing two double flips and a 1080 in his finals run. Granted, that placement was also because of a lack of execution and some bobbled landings, which Cory readily admitted after the event, but it speaks to where pro contest riding is at.

When the riding is so close, the smallest of details can separate one rider from another. Doing an extra 180 more than the guy before you no longer matters. What comes into play are elements like grabs (and legit ones, at that), amplitude, creativity, variety and execution. There are even details within those details. Take, for example, a crow 5. All of the top riders on the PWT do them, and they are a staple in the finals, but not all crow 5s are equal. A nose grab crow 5 is easier than a mute grab version (and the same can be said for a back mobe 5), so you might see a rider with the mute one get a little bump in the score. If two guys both have grabbed toe 9s, what separates them will be how well the trick is grabbed and how long it's held (yes, the judges can tell).

Ben Greenwood has been a judge on the PWT for the past five seasons, so he's had a front-row seat to both the progression of the riding and the pressure of making sure scores are reflective of it. "I specifically remember the events where it all changed, when double flips and 10s were a part of the run and not just done as a crowd-pleaser or in a victory lap," says the former pro. "From the judge's seat, the no-brainer heats are the ones where you know everyone agrees with you. It is the really difficult heats that are deciding transfer spots or final podium placings that make it heavy. Telling your friends that they didn't do enough to get through a round when they are convinced otherwise is a tough thing to do."

PWT judges, Ben Greenwood and Rob CorumGarrett Cortese

In order to judge close calls where every detail matters, the judges have to be very detail-oriented. "We look for everything very closely, and we know what to look for," says Greenwood. "Two guys might do grabbed 9s, but it can come down to who grabbed it better and longer. Some riders will question that and say they got a solid grab, but if three judges are specifically looking for you to get a grab and none of them thought you got it well enough to give you credit for it in their score, does that mean you really did get it?"

Questions will always arise about whether or not judges made the right call, but the conspiracy theories about putting friends through or catering to riders of certain brands or sponsors can be put to rest. "The 'friends' thing will always get tossed around," says Greenwood, "but if you think about it, you probably wouldn't want your friends judging you because they probably hold you to a higher standard, since they know what you're capable of at your best. I can honestly say that the judges have the whole sport's best interest at the top of their minds when hashing out a score, all while being fair, rewarding style, and calling the score in for the live feed and jumbotron in under two minutes."

Just as the riding progresses and the competition gets more intense, so too does the judging component. But if you ask any of the guys in the boat on a Saturday at a PWT stop, they wouldn’t trade it. They’re doing their part to make sure the results are fair and accurate, all while getting to watch the best riders in the world throw down unbelievable runs in a pressure-packed setting.