SB FILE / 2005
Hawaii surfing professional Pancho Sullivan has put qualifying for the WCT on hold to be with his family more often.
Sullivan safe at home
After a decade and a half as a professional surfer, competing almost exclusively on Oahu's North Shore, a first campaign on the elite World Championship Tour this year inevitably changed some things for Pancho Sullivan.
Triple Crown of Surfing
» Op Pro Hawaii, at Haleiwa's Alii Beach Park, Nov. 12-22, a $125,000 6-star World Qualifying Series event.
» O'Neill World Cup of Surfing, at Sunset Beach, Nov. 24-Dec. 6, a $125,000 6-star World Qualifying Series finale.
» Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters, at the Banzai Pipeline, Dec. 8-20, a $280,000 World Championship Tour finale.
» Op Pro Hawaii, at Haleiwa's Alii Beach Park, Nov. 12-22, a $30,000 World Qualifying Series finale.
» Roxy Pro, at Sunset Beach, Nov. 24-Dec. 6, a $67,500 World Championship Tour event.
» Billabong Pro Maui, at Honolua Bay, Dec. 8-20, a $67,500 World Championship Tour finale.
FOR INFORMATION: Call 596-SURF for daily updates on when contests will run. Also visit www.triplecrownofsurfing.com.
In his personal life, the 33-year-old from Pupukea was away from his wife and young daughter much more than he was used to, traveling from one premier event to the next as one of the world's top 45 surfers in the Big Show.
And though this season is near its end and qualifying for next year's WCT is still no sure thing -- there is one title that means more to Sullivan than even a world championship: Hawaii's Triple Crown of Surfing.
"I'm not putting any focus or emphasis on my re-qualification," said Sullivan, who recently skipped the penultimate WCT event this year to return home in preparation for the birth of his second child -- a son -- and then the Triple Crown. "I'm focusing on my ultimate goal, and something I've been striving for for the last 15 years -- the Triple Crown title. I'm trying to get back into that head-space. It's my favorite time of year. ... You can travel and see other places, but, boy, is it nice to be home."
A prestigious series of three big-wave events at premier venues on the North Shore, the 24th annual men's Vans Triple Crown of Surfing begins today with the waiting period for the Op Pro Hawaii at Haleiwa. (The women's Triple Crown also begins today.)
Sullivan is the event's defending champion, having finally broken through last year to win his first Triple Crown after years of strong results -- but no previous victories -- in the series and wins in all of the other major North Shore events.
Part of the lower-tiered World Qualifying Series in addition to the Triple Crown, Sullivan's win at the Op Pro helped him qualify for the first time for the WCT.
He has not finished higher than ninth place at any of the previous 10 stops on the elite tour this year and is currently ranked No. 26, with only the top 27 guaranteed spots on the 2007 WCT.
Still, Sullivan decided to skip the WCT event that finished Wednesday in Brazil. His wife is due to deliver any day now.
"This year's been such a new chapter in my life as far as adjusting to so much more traveling, being away from home," Sullivan said. "It's been a learning year for me. I haven't had the results that I hoped for, but I've learned a lot about my equipment, the different locations on tour -- just what to expect. I think my surfing is improving, and that I'm just a step away from a big result."
The WCT is "very, very competitive," he added. "The guys who qualified are the top surfers in the world in all types of conditions. Everybody's there to win a world title, everybody's really focused. You feel a little bit of the pressure, wanting to represent Hawaii and do well and prove yourself. You can sometimes put too much pressure on yourself and, at times, I did that. I know I haven't come close to doing the kind of surfing I'm capable of."
In addition to the Op Pro, the Triple Crown also includes as its second stop the last WQS contest of the year -- the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach -- and wraps up with the WCT finale -- the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters at the Banzai Pipeline.
Besides awarding individual contest titles at each of the events, the series also awards the Triple Crown championship to its best overall performer.
Sullivan finished third last year.
With the North Shore and its legendary waves long considered the ultimate proving ground for any pro, this is a heavyweight belt many consider equal to -- or, even more important than -- the world championship.
Count Sullivan among them.
"I really get a huge rush out of competing in these events," he said. "The wave quality here is pretty much unmatched anywhere else in the world."
Winning the Triple Crown championship for the first time would deliver Sullivan his ultimate professional goal. But he does also hold the smaller hope of performing well enough at the Pipeline to qualify again for the WCT, even though he's not focusing on it.
He said he would like to continue on the elite tour for a few more years, as long as he's able to continue keeping his priorities in line.
"I don't want to just continue doing it, just sort of barely qualifying," Sullivan said. "But with another year, I could really improve on what I've learned this year. I want to surf at the highest level I'm capable of, and, if it turns out that I'm not getting big results, I'll be ready for the next chapter in life ... something that would still allow me to be in touch with the sport, but at the same time be at home, be involved with my family.
"But I do feel very blessed to have the opportunity, and I want to make the most of it. I do feel like I'm capable of winning any one of these events. I'm going to try to put my heart into it for the next few years, and count myself lucky to be where I'm at."