VANS TRIPLE CROWN OF SURFING
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Andy Irons of Kauai is back to defend his Triple Crown title beginning Monday with the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa.
Triple Crown series breaks into 25th year
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The waiting period for the first jewel of the men's and women's Triple Crown -- the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa -- begins Monday and runs through Nov. 24. Both Triple Crown series will wind through two more events and finish around six weeks later with an overall champion. Kauai's Andy Irons is the defending men's titleholder, while Peru's Sofia Mulanovich is the women's.
"Even from the years that I won, I don't know if I have one favorite memory from the Triple Crown," said Hawaii's Sunny Garcia, the 2000 world and record six-time Triple Crown champ who is back to compete in the series yet again. "I just know that the Triple Crown is always my favorite time of year. Bar none. There's nothing I look forward to more than Haleiwa, Sunset and Pipeline -- it doesn't get any better."
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First in a series
Much has changed in the 24 years since the first Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
Men's Triple Crown
» The Reef Hawaiian Pro, a $125,000, 6-star World Qualifying Series event, Monday-Nov. 24 at Haleiwa's Alii Beach Park.
» The O'Neill World Cup of Surfing, a $125,000, 6-star World Qualifying Series finale, Nov. 25-Dec. 6 at Sunset Beach.
» The Billabong Pipeline Masters, a $300,000 World Championship Tour finale, Dec. 8-20 at the Banzai Pipeline.
Women's Triple Crown
» The Reef Hawaiian Pro, a $30,000, 6-star World Qualifying Series finale, Monday-Nov. 24 at Haleiwa's Alii Beach Park.
» The Roxy Pro, an $80,000 World Championship Tour event, Nov. 25-Dec. 6 at Sunset Beach.
» The Billabong Pro Maui, an $80,000 World Championship Tour finale, Dec. 8-20 at Honolua Bay, Maui
Heat sheets during the initial years were churned out on a single typewriter; the judges' scaffolding, a single-tiered stand, was quickly pulled and put together out of the back of a pickup truck.
These days, the scaffolding is more like a multilevel portable building. And the typewriter has given way to a computerized system that, among its many attributes, was able to feed the drama of the final day of last year's Pipeline Masters live to 1.8 million fans worldwide on the Internet.
But even so, as the Triple Crown readies for its silver anniversary, its most critical elements remain the same: three contests at world-renowned, big-wave venues on Oahu's North Shore. Each surf event has a career-defining trophy of its own. It is also part of a series that honors the best overall performer in the events and bestows upon that surfer eternal cachet from the achievement.
"What's interesting in looking back over 25 years is to see, obviously, the growth of the sport and the prize money -- we're up to $750,000 now (for the total Triple Crown purse)," said Randy Rarick, the series' executive director.
"The first year we did the Triple Crown, we had the Duke (Kahanamoku Invitational) meet in there -- and there was no prize money in the Duke that year, it was purely for the prestige and the glory.
"But we've always put the emphasis on the prestige of the (Triple Crown) title. The title is still worth more than the prize money. If anything, it's grown more in stature; being recognized by your peers and doing well on the North Shore a lot of times will give you more of a boost than a win anywhere else in the world."
Indeed, it was the very feeling that the North Shore was -- and always would be -- the ultimate proving ground for any surfer. That feeling drove current State Senator Fred Hemmings to come up with the idea for the series 24 years ago, according to Rarick.
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Derek Ho has the Triple Crown of Surfing four times.
A former world champion surfer and professional tour organizer, Hemmings, in 1983, initiated the Triple Crown title that would go to the top performer across the three already-existing North Shore contests as a way to counter the pro world tour moving its world title from Hawaii to Australia.
The tour eventually returned to finishing in Hawaii and again included the Triple Crown events, but the series already had its own momentum. To be deemed the top overall performer in the three North Shore events was a title that could stand on its own. It was a title that most surfers would come to covet as much as the world championship.
"For me, and to a lot of the top surfers, (the Triple Crown championship is) a world title within the world title," said Derek Ho, Hawaii's first men's world champion (1993) and a four-time Triple Crown winner. He will surf in the series for a 25th consecutive year. "With the intensity and versatility of the waves here in Hawaii, (the series) really shows who the good surfers are."
In the early years, the Triple Crown was mobile, able to set the stage for its contests wherever the waves were best on the North Shore, including Waimea Bay. At the start of the 1990s, however, with new permit rules and a desire to eliminate too many contest days at any one spot, the series got locked into the same three hallowed venues it features now: Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline.
A women's Triple Crown was added in 1997. It currently includes the only contest not held on the North Shore -- the Billabong Pro Maui at Honolua Bay (the women don't surf Pipeline for the Triple Crown).