Change comes naturally with the new year. One year done, another begins. We make resolutions and hope for positive changes in our lives. A lot of the changes that have occurred in the last couple years have been unexpected and we’re all doing our best to adapt. One change that Hawai’i is seeing is the new format for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, an event that has been at the heart of competitive surfing in Hawai’i for the past 30 years. Even 6x Triple Crown Champion Sunny Garcia has been quoted saying, “Winning the Triple Crown title means more than winning the world title.”
For those who don’t know, the Triple Crown of Surfing is three surf contests at three world class waves on the north shore of O’ahu, Haleiwa, Sunset, and Pipeline. For the past four decades, those three events have been a mainstay in Hawaiian surfing, the pinnacle for the World Tour, and a measure that set the bar for most surfers. Haleiwa being the first event, would begin in late October, Sunset would follow right behind in November, and Pipeline would wrap up before Christmas and conclude not only the Triple Crown, but the entire calendar year for all WSL contests. This format made the north shore truly the proving ground and performing in Hawaii was crucial to every professional surfer’s career, because at the end of the year, whether you were on the WSL qualifying series (QS) or the Championship Tour (CT), it all came down to Hawai’i. It was the crescendo for the entire competitive year but more importantly, it was a stage for Hawai’i talent to compete against the world's best on their home turf. It also gave reason for all the QS warriors from outer islands and beyond to come to the gathering place of O’ahu’s north shore. Surfers from all over the world would take up residence for the six weeks contest window, or longer. Nearly the entire surf industry would make the yearly pilgrimage to the “surf mecca” to meet, shoot video and photos and finish the year of competition. It’s like an annual reunion that has been running for decades.
The new changes for the most part are due to Covid-19. Similar to our T&C Grom Contest, in 2020 the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing went virtual as the competition took place online with surfers submitting video clips of their best rides at these iconic waves. Also in 2020 for the first time ever, the WSL started the Championship Tour with Pipeline, and ended at Trestles, in California. The WSL tried to make the change the year prior and was unable to due to a logistical issue with permitting. Although the Triple Crown was celebrated online in 2020 with a cash prize and bragging rights, the traditional three contest format and its implications on nearly every professional surfer’s career had come to an end. The new changes see the contest at Haleiwa still taking place in late October and as a Qualifying Series event. But the contest at Sunset Beach is no longer a QS, it is now the second event on the men’s and women’s Championship Tour schedule.
The new changes to the WSL competitive format go beyond the Triple Crown but can grow and come with their own set of benefits and drawbacks depending on who you ask. If you were to ask the opinion of non-professional surfers, they may like the idea of less surf events during the Hawai’i winter season, which means less crowds on the north shore, in and out of the water, and more access to their favorite waves. If you were to ask the opinion of a competitive surfer from Hawai’i, they may be upset about the fact that the venue that showcased local talent against the world’s best surfers has changed. The way it stands now, surfers from Hawai’i and those from Tahiti are in the same region and must compete in regional events before they can qualify for the top tier Challenger Series events like the one at Haleiwa. If they accumulate enough points in their region, they can compete in the non-regional events and if they do well enough in those events, they can qualify for the Championship Tour. This is different from years past, where those regional surfers could choose nearly any event on the WSL qualifying tour schedule. Some might see this benefit the amount of traveling required by lower rated surfers trying to rank up, and some may see this as hindering that same surfer’s ability to choose which events they want to do.
This year will be the first year we see the WSL’s changes in full effect. They are beginning the CT at Pipeline like last year, but this year it is in late January instead of early December, and the event at Sunset Beach is now in February. Some may see this as a positive, since Pipeline tends to see its best days later in the winter season. We’re also seeing a new trend this year, in that many of the tour surfers that usually take up residence on the north shore for months have shortened their stay drastically and have gone home in early December, which means they were able to spend more time at home during the holidays.
For better or worse, change is inevitable. Competitive surfing has seen many changes and will continue to evolve and grow. We will miss watching Hawai’i's hometown heroes battle it out with the world's best. We’ll miss the traditional three contest format we’ve come to know and love, the drama, the competitive energy that builds from each event to the next, culminating at Pipeline. We’ll miss seeing locals like Michael Ho and Johnny Boy Gomes crowned champion after surfing all the way from the low seeds or the Pipe trials to take the win. We’ll miss seeing unlikely champs like Big Island’s Myles Padaca take down a field of top professionals, or Kauai’s Sebastian Zietz clinch the Triple Crown title while also qualifying for the World Tour. Sure, you can still tune in and catch the action online, but it would be hard to replace being there in person, and the history that the Triple Crown has brought to competitive surfing.
Despite all these changes, one thing is certain, surfing in Hawai’i is alive and well. And as it has been for centuries, surfing will always remain a passion deep in the heart of the watermen and women who call Hawai’i home.
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