Thirty Years of the Real Thing

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This winter, on the wave-rich and naturally raw North Shore of O‘ahu, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing will notch up its 30th season as the most challenging and prestigious series in professional surfing, crowning the sport’s ultimate event, series and World Tour champions. The three jewels of the Triple Crown—the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Hale‘iwa, the Vans World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach and the Billabong Pipe Masters at the Banzai Pipeline—set the bar for the sport year after year. These events define progressive surfing as they challenge the world’s leading surfers in the ultimate competitive arena.

The North Shore is esteemed for its powerful and dangerous surf. Its waves are the most challenging in the world, luring surfers with ecstatic rewards, but not without the threat of ultimate risk and hefty consequences. The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing has been the divining rod of generations of surfers, crowning the champions and elevating the sport’s heroes. It is the yardstick against which all surfers and pro surfing events are measured.

For six weeks every November and December, surfers make the trek to O‘ahu to test their mettle along the Seven Mile Miracle while hungry local surfers arise to challenge the established guard with their homegrown intimate knowledge of the breaks and ocean conditions. This combination of talent and a fluid playing field, famous for its perfect waves as it is for the severe physical punishment it can deliver, creates an annual drama unmatched in professional sports. So intense is the stage that only 13 surfers have claimed the Vans Triple Crown Champion title since its inception, some going on to win multiple years, others happily retiring with just one notch on the belt.

The 30-year legacy of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is essentially the history of modern-day surfing. When the ASP World Tour came into being in 1982, founded by outspoken Australian surf contest promoter and professional surfer Ian Cairns, he jockeyed successfully to move the final leg of the title hunt from Hawai‘i to Australia. Fred Hemmings, who had been organizing and running professional surf events on the North Shore since the mid-1970s, namely the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, the World Cup of Surfing and the Pipe Masters, understood the importance of a title race in Hawai‘i for the overall success of the fledgling professional sport. Hemmings knew that nowhere else in the world could offer the consistency, power and perfection of surf, or the high-stakes drama that allowed for the ultimate progression of the athletes and the evolution of the sport.

Seeing an opportunity to elevate professional surfing and acknowledge and reward Hawai‘i’s competitive surfers, Hemmings founded the Triple Crown of Surfing. The mini-series linked together The Duke, the World Cup of Surfing and the Pipe Masters and tallied the surfers’ accumulated points over the three events to name the best overall competitive surfer as Triple Crown Champion. With the help of Randy Rarick, Bernie Baker, Jack Shipley and Bob Lundy, the Triple Crown of Surfing first ran in 1983, with iconic North Shore charger Michael Ho wearing the first inaugural crown.

After gaining momentum over the next few years, showcasing the upper echelon of professional surfing, ASP executives brought the end of the World Tour competitive season, and the title race, back to Hawai‘i. With the Triple Crown firmly in place as the culmination of the World Tour and its own coveted title, Hemmings stepped away from contest directing to pursue a career in politics. Randy Rarick took the helm as executive director, a role he still holds to this day.

Growing up requires adaptability and change to stay current and cutting-edge. Spanning three decades, the Triple Crown of Surfing, as well as the sport and industry of surfing, has seen its share of changes, in and out of the water. Short and tight boardshorts got longer and baggier over the years, only to shrink back above the knee; neon colors and angular airbrushes were toned down in the ’90s, just to be resurrected once again on both boards and apparel; surfboard design, materials and fin set-ups continue to evolve; the infrastructure and Triple Crown staff is now a multi-generational community in itself; and media coverage has leaped from a few color pages in surf magazines distributed months after the event, to a live global streaming webcast that reaches millions, delivering the thrills and spills of every single tube ride, aerial and wipeout.

The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing has been the nucleus of the evolution of surfing that has taken us from Triple Crown Champion Michael Ho in 1983, to world dominator Kelly Slater, and now the current Triple Crown Champion, 20-year-old John John Florence. When Ho was champion and for a decade thereafter, Sunset Beach stood as surfing’s “Mount Everest,” and power-infused carving turns were the hallmark of progression. But in the early ’90s, a young and talented Floridian surfer named Kelly Slater shifted the focus from the distant deep-water lineup of Sunset to the near-shore and camera-friendly stretch of waves that included Rocky Point, Off The Wall, and Backdoor Pipe. Riding shorter, thinner boards, Slater and his peers captivated their generation. Fueled by an equally talented rival in Andy Irons, the pair combined power surfing with fluid styles and flawless tube riding.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the North Shore’s own John John Florence is leading the next generation. With his diverse skill set and intimate knowledge of every rideable wave within the Seven Mile Miracle, he consistently delivers through his innate understanding of the intricacies at all three venues.

More than ever, the surfer who emerges as the Vans Triple Crown Champion will stand as the most diversely talented and complete surfer on the planet. He will excel at the high performance, above-the-lip platform of Hale‘iwa, deliver fearless power at the vast, mountainous lineup of Sunset and commit to the reef rearing, heaving barrels of Pipeline. With a complete repertoire of surfing to suit all conditions—airs, power surfing, hacks, gouges and backside barrel riding—the world’s best surfers will tackle the world’s best waves during the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.