Billabong Pipe Masters

Faces of the Vans Triple Crown - Pt. 5

Dec 10, 2017

The charger

Billy Kemper

Maui, Hawaii
Professional surfer - Big wave charger
2x Pe’ahi Challenge Winner (2015, 2016)
10th Vans Triple Crown of Surfing

What makes the Vans Triple Crown different than other surfing events?
You have three premiere waves which are completely different. You have Pipeline and Backdoor, which are strictly barrel riding. You got Haleiwa, which is one of the most high performance bigger waves in the world and then you got Sunset Beach which can be the all-in-one: high performance, big turns and big barrels. It’s really prestigious, there’s a lot of history behind it.

What does it take to win one of these?
To take this thing down, it takes more than just talent. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s a marathon, not just a surf contest, you gotta be in top shape and ready to go.

What would it mean to you to win a Triple Crown title?
I think that’s more of a dream for me than the World Title. I’m not trying to be on the CT. I’m on the Big Wave Tour, where I’m a few hundred points away from being in first. But, this is where all my focus is at. I’ve been training a lot, I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work and this is it, right here.

Can you compare Pe’ahi to a place like Sunset?
Sunset, honestly, on a Westerly swell (NW, WNW) is almost like a nephew of Jaws. It kind of has the same open ocean feeling, you have the outside peak and the inside bowl. I mean, they are two totally different animals but they are both, pound for pound, some of the most powerful waves in the world. You can’t really compare anything to Jaws, she is a beast of her own and a place we’ve all been addicted to.

What’s your favorite wave in Hawaii?
Jaws, Pe’ahi, without a doubt. It’s the best big wave in the world! The bigger it gets, the harder it barrels. There’s no wave in the world that you can paddle into a barrel like that.

What is the hardest part of your job?

"Probably saying bye to my kids and family before I paddle out. Most people don’t realize that our lives are on the line. "

It’s a bit hard for my family at times, but they trust me and they see how hard I work. I put my life into this. I train really hard night and day with my coach Kahea Hart. This is my job, this is what I was raised to do. I’m just living my dream.

Describe a perfect day in Hawaii.
Wake up to my kids not crying and my wife happy! haha That, followed by some good waves and training with my coach. Everyday is a blessing for me, I got a beautiful family, a beautiful wife. To just wake up next to them, get to surf in my backyard and call Hawaii my home are all blessings.

Favorite grinds in the North Shore?
There’s a lot of good food, but the girls at Pupukea Grill got some good recipes. They have healthy food, good fish, good meat, veggies, vegan stuff… It’s all there.


The mentor

Rainos Hayes

Former Vans Triple Crown competitor
Billabong Hawaii Team Manager
Head Coach for the Hawaii Surf Team
30th Vans Triple Crown of Surfing

How’s the Vans Triple Crown different than other surfing events?
I think this event carries a lot of prestige and it would be nice to see us keep it that way. In Haleiwa, Sunset and Pipe, there’s a lot of risk involved and that enables the guys to challenge themselves, making a huge difference. They are really competing with the ocean and trying to connect with it, versus having to only compete against each other.

As an athlete, what does it take to win a Triple Crown title?
First and foremost, you have to have a relationship with these breaks. Second, it takes consistency. That was very much part of the criteria in the old days. Guys didn’t fall. You needed 3 or 4 waves, even 6 before, so everything you took counted.

"Nowadays with only two rides, I think people take it a little lightly and don’t quite commit themselves like they would before, when every ride counted."

Do you think the two wave total allows surfers to be more progressive?
Definitely. The less waves required, the more it pushes the amount of risk that you can and need to take, in order to get the high scores. As surfing progresses though, I’d like to see the guys a little more consistent than sometimes they are. I think some of that has to do with the board size as well. On the big boards that we rode before, they were really stable and there wasn’t a lot of falling. Now, in order to get the more risky maneuvers, surfers are riding a lot shorter boards. That produces a larger product but at the same time, it’s easier to make mistakes.

Who is the best Triple Crown competitor of all times? Why?
Michael Ho was pretty incredible back then, and still up to this day. If you look at both Mike and Derek (Ho), those guys do not miss waves and rarely wipe out. I think that’s some of the old school that they’ve had. If they take it, they’re gonna make it. To this day, they are still cherry picking some of the very best waves in Hawaii, it’s amazing! I’ll cheerlead for those two guys forever.

What’s your favorite wave in Hawaii?
I’ve probably ridden some of my best waves in Pipeline, full size. But, the place I’ve always had a great relationship with, is Sunset Beach. I grew up practicing on the inside and wondering if I’d ever make it out the back. Some of my best results and memories have been there.

What are the main things you have your surfers work on to prepare for the Triple Crown?
I have them practice on the largest boards I can talk them into, so that everything starts to feel small. And when they have to use a large surfboard in competition, they’re not overwhelmed by it. The other thing is getting on a schedule, where they are staying on point, applying themselves and continuing to develop a relationship with the breaks. You don’t wanna be guessing when the horn blows. You wanna be confident and have your relationship at that point.

What’s the hardest part of being a coach?
Watching your athletes struggle… I enjoy helping others succeed. When they lose, I feel their pain as well.

Favorite grinds in the North Shore?
Everybody loves Pupukea Grill. The ladies there are top notch!


The guardian

Terry Ahue

Former City and County of Honolulu lifeguard
CEO Hawaiian Water Patrol
35th Vans Triple Crown of Surfing

How long have you been in the North Shore?
I live in V-Land now but I originally grew up in a small city down in the East side, called Hauula. I started coming up here when I was about 12, hanging out with the old time surfers and surfing the North Shore. I became a lifeguard and worked in the North Shore from 1974 to 2002. So, I’ve been around a lot. From the beginning of the contests, with Fred Hemmings, (Jeff) Hakman, Barry Kanaiaupuni to what it is right now.

Who is the best Vans Triple Crown competitor of all times? Why?
Sunny Garcia was one of the best. And probably, at his age right now, he would still be pretty good out there. He is still charging.

What makes the ocean in Hawaii so challenging?

"On the summer months, people come here and can’t believe what they see. It’s flat as a lake and nothing is happening."

But on the winter time, things change. There’s a lot of rip, lots of current. If you’re not from here, you can get into a lot of trouble. Specially down at Pipeline, Ehukai, the sandbars. A lot of people have access to get out in the water real fast because it’s shallow. They walk in, fall in a little deep hole and get sucked out.

Tell me some of the craziest situations you’ve been through in your career.
I’ve been through a lot in my lifeguarding days. Before the skis were here, we would have to swim out in big days to go get somebody and it was impossible to get back in, specially at Sunset. But rescues nowadays are a lot easier with the jet-skis, which guys like myself, Brian (Keaulana), Melvin (Puu) and others put into work. The intention is to pass my knowledge to the younger generations. When I pass away, I wanna make sure that I taught all that I know to the new generation, so they don’t have to go through all the trial and errors that I went through.

A lot of people travel thousands of miles to Hawaii and when they get here the beach is closed. They say: “Why did you close the beach for? This is so beautiful!”  They don’t understand the surf, the currents, the situations they are gonna get in, because they’ve never been around it. But hey, it’s for their own safety.

What is the hardest part of being a lifeguard in Hawaii?
The hardest part is sitting in that tower and watching everybody surf! They do get a lot of breaks and could go surf, but most of them just want to stay around and make sure everybody’s eyes are on everyone.

Any advice to a visiting surfer who wants to start getting experience in these breaks?
Make sure you are physically and mentally fit to challenge the North Shore.

Favorite grinds in the North Shore?
Lei Lei’s got some good food. I like the Peppered Steak, medium rare with a lot of ketchup on it!


More Faces of the Vans Triple Crown:

PART 1       PART 2       PART 3       PART 4


Photos and interviews by Paulo Dias

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