SURF’S UP: The greatest show on surf

Nov. 16, 2010 | 0 Comments
Hank Gaskell of Maui completed an aerial maneuver on his final wave to win his second-round heat in 2009.
Photo by Bernie Baker | Special to The Honolulu Advertiser, 2009

BY DAYTON MORINAGA / Special to The Pulse

It’s time for big waves and big crowds to meet on Oahu’s North Shore once again.

The HIC Pro was completed Nov. 5 at Sunset Beach, and that served as a warm-up for the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, which began Friday at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park.

It is the time of year when waves are best in Hawaii, so the best surfers from around the world fittingly gather on the North Shore for two months of competition.

World titles are usually on the line at this time of year, but the 2010 world championships have already been clinched. Kelly Slater of Florida increased his record total of men’s world titles to 10 this month; Stephanie Gilmore of Australia clinched her fourth consecutive women’s title in October.

Still, there will be plenty at stake when the surfers take to the waves. For starters, the coveted Triple Crown championship is up for grabs.

The Triple Crown is a series of three contests at three separate beaches on Oahu’s North Shore: the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa Alii Beach, the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach, and the Billabong Pipeline Masters at the Banzai Pipeline. Each venue offers a unique challenge, and the Triple Crown championship goes to the best overall performer in the three events.

The list of Triple Crown of Surfing champions is both elite and short. The Triple Crown started in 1983, yet only 12 different surfers have won the Triple Crown championship.

Waianae’s Sunny Garcia, who is in the field again this year, owns a record six Triple Crown titles. Australia’s Joel Parkinson is the two-time defending Triple Crown champion, and after winning it last year, he said: “To me, the Triple Crown title is the next best thing to the world title.”

Surfing’s world tour also ends its season on the North Shore, so although the world titles have been determined, there are still many surfers who need to perform well to secure a place on the 2011 tour. In effect, careers could be affected with every wave.

Just as important, reputations can be made or broken on the treacherous North Shore waves.

“All the best surfers are here, all the top players in the surf industry are here; basically you have the whole surfing world focusing on the North Shore right now,” said Rainos Hayes, a veteran pro surfer from Sunset Beach. “If you do something positive — if you win a contest here — it can set you up for a long time.”

Ideally, the North Shore contests are run in wave-face heights ranging from 10 to 30 feet, although Mother Nature is not always cooperative. When the waves are on the rise, thousands of spectators gather on the beach — free of charge — oohing for every perfect barrel ride, and aahing for every horrific wipeout. And there are plenty of both.

The women also compete in three events at three separate North Shore venues for a Triple Crown championship. Most notable this year, the women will get to compete at the Banzai Pipeline for the first time in Triple Crown history in the inaugural Vans Duel for the Jewel.

If the waves get especially large, as in wave-face heights of 40 feet or higher, there is a chance the awe-inspiring Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational could run at Waimea Bay. Because that contest runs only on a day when conditions are suitable for a full day of big-wave surfing, it has been completed just eight times since it was created in 1984.

The unexpected death of Kauai’s Andy Irons — a four-time Triple Crown champion — on Nov. 2 cast a pall over the surfing world. Irons was scheduled to compete in this year’s Triple Crown of Surfing series. But the greatest show on surf will endure.

In honor of Irons, who is also a three-time world champion, the Triple Crown of Surfing suspended competition this past Sunday so that surfers could attend a paddle-out memorial service in his honor at Hanalei Bay. There will be another ceremony celebrating Irons’ life during the Billabong Pipeline Masters in December. Watch for surfers to dedicate victories and performances to him throughout Hawaii’s surf season.

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