Triple Crown field has to get by motivated 6-time champ
Second in a series
The truth revealed from the previous 24 years of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is that not all professional surfers are created equal.
The most prestigious series in the sport, the Triple Crown, is composed of three major contests at different big-wave breaks on Oahu's North Shore -- long considered the proving ground for any top surfer. Each event awards its own trophy, but the series also crowns an overall champion.
About to celebrate its 25th anniversary with the start of the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa on Monday, there have been only 10 different men heralded as Triple Crown series champions.
Hawaii's Sunny Garcia has won the Triple Crown six times. And much to the potential detriment of the rest of the international contingent here for the series that also represents the end of the pro world circuit each year, Garcia is back for more.
"There's no doubt in my mind that I can still go out and win and give guys a good run -- not even the slightest doubt," Garcia, 37, said. "There are only a few guys who can come to Hawaii and dominate the North Shore. For the Triple Crown, either you're one of those guys who can win, or you'll never win it -- never come close.
"If you look at the world champs, there's a lot of different world champs; for the Triple Crown there's very few. If you come (to Hawaii) every winter, you know which guys are gonna do good, gonna be in the running to win the Triple Crown. It's a hard thing these three events."
Originally from Waianae, Garcia won his first overall Triple Crown title in 1992, and repeated as the series champion the next two years as well. He won back-to-back Triple Crowns in 1999 and 2000 in addition to nabbing the 2000 world title, before winning his most recent Triple Crown in 2004.
In 2005, facing tax-evasion charges and problems with his second wife that would eventually lead to prison time and divorce, Garcia retired from surfing the pro tour full-time. The judge in his case allowed him to return to compete in the Triple Crown last year, but Garcia performed poorly and called it his "worst memory from the Triple Crown, for sure."
But down 40 pounds from that nightmare Triple Crown campaign to 195 this year and fresh off of house arrest in San Diego, the newly engaged Garcia just finished competing in the Xcel Pro at Sunset Beach as his warm-up for the series. Any prize money he earns will go straight to the government, but Garcia claims little concern for that.
"I'm just highly motivated right now. I'm back to compete, and I'm not worried about the money (owed)," he said. "I think I still have some cobwebs to shake off, but for the most part, if I don't win the Triple Crown I'll be unhappy. I'm not here to just show my face. I'm here to win the Triple Crown, here to make a statement."
Another former world and Triple Crown champ, Hawaii's Derek Ho will be participating in the series for a 25th consecutive year. Ho is tied with defending Triple Crown champ Andy Irons of Kauai for the second-most series titles won (four).
Irons and two-time Triple Crown series winner Gary Elkerton of Australia are the only two surfers who've managed to win each of the series' three contests over their careers. In taking his fourth and most recent Triple Crown in 2006, Irons nearly became the first to earn all three individual titles as well as the overall championship in the same year, winning the first event, placing third in the second and winning the finale and series title.
Ho's older brother, Michael, won the first Triple Crown in 1983 and ended up with two. Just last year, Derek Ho was defeated in a Triple Crown event by his nephew Mason -- Michael's son.
"There was only a handful of surfers in (the Triple Crown) when it first started compared to now," Derek Ho, 43, said. "Still, one thing that hasn't changed is that, while I think everybody's equal outside of the water, in the Triple Crown it isn't the same. It shows how good you really are."