Welcome to Paradise!
It’s on right now, the first jewel, at Haleiwa on Oahu’s north shore and the surf is horrible but I don’t care because I love every second of the Triple Crown. I love the harbor weird of Haleiwa. I love the big weird of Sunset. I love the nail bite of Pipeline. You can keep your “world tour.” You can keep your Australia, Europe, Somewhere and Brazil. Gimme Hawaii. Gimme Cap’n Cook’s prize. And I think I rhapsodized the Trip five years ago to this very day in the award-nominated book Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell.
Yes, it’s been five years since it came out and let’s read from it now.
On the North Shore, the Pipeline Masters is the only World Tour event, though the two events before, at Hale’iwa, which is a six star, and Sunset Beach, which is a Prime, are surfed by all. The surfer with the best scores in all three wins the Triple Crown and the Triple Crown is held in high regard. The Triple Crown is, in fact, held almost as high as the World Title. The surfer who can master Hale’iwa, Sunset, and Pipeline enters the North Shore folklore, even if he is from Australia. Even if he is from Florida. The Triple Crown always takes place during the holiday season. It brings Christmas cheer to an otherwise seasonless island.
I bump into Grenny. He is a surf agent. He has a small roster of surfers and he gets them deals from the brands and helps them with their travel and things of that nature. Grenny is in a bit of trouble, right now, because he is undercutting the other big agents in the game by charging a 10 percent fee instead of the customary 15 percent. But it is OK because his main competition, agent Blair Marlin, is in worse trouble for bringing Lindsay Lohan to the North Shore. Blair is a very kind man but makes decisions like a surfer, which is to say bad decisions. He claims that Lindsay wanted to see one of his stars, Julian Wilson, but in reality Blair spent all the time with Lindsay. The two of them were photographed making eyes at each other and an honest friend told me that he saw Lindsay leaving Blair’s room too early one morning looking like, well, looking like Lindsay Lohan. Her purse would later get stolen from her Jeep and $10,000 in cash would get stolen from her purse.
The events that comprise the Triple Crown are held in a waiting period of either one week or ten days, depending on the spot. Surfing is dictated by nature. She has to provide the waves and if there are no waves then the surfing itself becomes an act of frustration. Of slopping around in gutless little ankle slappers in front of cheering Chinese. Or Northern Irish. Frustrating. And so contest organizers have either one week or ten days in which to hold the event. They will watch the swell forecasts. They will use science and try to determine the best time to start the contest and aim for a firecracker finish.
I push between two tourists from Canada who can’t believe they are on the North Shore and can’t believe they get to see the event. They are both in their midforties, male, and wearing maple leaf baseball hats and sports sandals. They clutch small GoPro cameras in their sweaty hands and take little video clips of everything. The people walking. The island scrub. The houses. Their own sport sandals. Sport sandals are the worst things ever, equal to Crocs and Vibrams in the record books of hideous fashion. But their Canadian excitement is heartwarming so I forgive them their fashion blunder.
Surfers are judged, in the events, on a scale of one to ten by six judges. The judging criteria will shift depending on what a particular wave offers. The Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast, for example, will provide good scores for airs and good scores for barrels, because the wave at Snapper Rock provides both. The Hurley Pro at Trestles will provide great scores for airs because that is what Trestles is known for. And on the North Shore, barrels are the only real things judged. If a surfer paddles out at Pipeline and tears the wave apart—really carves and hits the lip and gouges and even throws a little slob, or some other skateboard-named air in, but doesn’t slip into a barrel—he will be judged poorly and those on the beach will hoot in derision at his stupidity. Pipeline is a barrel. A gaping barrel. The best, most critical barrel in surfing.
I am finally close to the event and see Neil Ridgway out on the Ke Nui making a call. He looks over at me and says, very sarcastically, “Chas Smith.” I say, “Hi Neil!” while throwing a loose shaka and then he goes back to his call. He is wearing the most clownish sunglasses that I have ever seen. They don’t fit his face well but they are far better than his European red beret.
In all the other events around the globe, surfers paddle out against each other in man-on-man heats. They can catch as many waves as they want and their two best are scored and the surfer with the best two-wave total moves on and on and on until he wins the finals and gets chaired up the beach and gets champagne sprayed in his face by the second place surfer. Getting chaired up the beach is one of the most embarrassing things in surfing. The victor’s friends, usually countrymen, will meet him at the shoreline after his victory and they will prop him on their shoulders and move through the crowd to the podium. Two men carrying one man. And it might look OK except surf events never draw hundreds of thousands of people. They draw hundreds and sometimes thousands. It would look good if a surfer was being carried through an overflowing crowd of adoring fans, throwing roses and blowing kisses and uncontrollably weeping. But at surf events, when a surfer is getting chaired up the beach, sitting on his friends’ shoulders, through spread-far-apart beach gawkers, it looks embarrassing. It looks like Christian rock ’n’ roll.
I turn into the Ehukai Beach Park, throw another shaka at Dave Prodan, and hear him say, awkwardly, “G’day, Chas” with his Austral-American accent. Dave was half raised in Newport Beach, California, and half raised in Australia and so his accent is a mess. He is now the marketing director for the ASP. Not an enviable position here. And I check the heat draw posted on the large Billabong Presents the Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons scaffolding.
Want more? Of course you do! A delicate weaving of Lindsay Lohan and Neil Ridgway and real talk.