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Hawaii surf contests suffer


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POSTED: Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Sponsor Me Hawaii 1-star World Qualifying Series event kicked off its one-week holding period today at Ala Moana Bowls. Besides a $10,000 prize purse, this professional surf contest is also offering entries in the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing for the top placers and a much needed boost to the local surf industry.

According to Triple Crown executive director Randy Rarick, the Sponsor Me Hawaii contest and the Xcel Pro will qualify a handful of local surfers for the first two events of the Triple Crown.

“;These events will be used as qualifiers for the Haleiwa and Sunset events,”; says Rarick. “;It has nothing to do with the Billabong Pipeline Masters.”;

Normally, Hawaii surfers qualify to compete in the Triple Crown through the WQS and local events held before November. The Sponsor Me Hawaii is one of only two entry-level pro tour events on offer in Hawaii this year, compared with as many as 10 a decade ago.

With the declining economy, it's financially difficult for Hawaii's pro surfers to travel around the world on the WQS. Native Hawaiian pro surfer Jason Shibata knows firsthand how critical the loss of the local contests are to the entire surf industry.

“;Local WQS events are so important to Hawaiian pro surfers and to international surfers at the same,”; said Shibata, who has competed on the WQS for more than a decade. “;As much as the locals want to compete at home, the whole world wants to compete in Hawaii.”;

It's not just Hawaii residents like Shibata who are noticing the effects of the declining pro surf scene in the 50th State. Association of Surfing Professionals WQS Tour manager Al Hunt, who has worked in pro surfing since the mid-'70s, is also critical of this issue.

“;Hawaii is in dire straits,”; said Hunt. “;World Qualifying Series events are in decline, you have surf promoters trading in WQS permits for standup paddle events, and you're losing key events.”;

Fortunately, Sponsor Me Entertainment stepped up for the Ala Moana Bowls contest and will feature 80 of the state's top surfers vying for a Triple Crown berth.

Roy Powers is the top seed of the event and isn't competing for an entry into the Triple Crown. As a World Championship Tour surfer, Powers is automatically invited to compete in all three events of the Triple Crown.

But Powers still recognizes the importance of this contest and his participation.

“;I think it's important for some of the guys with the bigger names in Hawaii to support it to get bigger and more events,”; Powers said. “;I hope a lot of people come down, support the event and get more events in Hawaii. I hope the City & County gets more into (pro surf contests) and realize the opportunity of advertisements, tourists and bringing more money to the local economy.”;

Former WCT surfer Pancho Sullivan is also competing in the Sponsor Me Hawaii event and echoes Powers' sentiments. Furthermore, Sullivan remembers when Hawaii had its own tour.

“;When I was coming up we had a full-blown local tour here that helped Hawaii surfers get to and travel on the world tour and chase the ratings,”; Sullivan said. “;Surfing garners so much attention for the state and local businesses who profit from tourism. Now is the time to be reinvesting.”;

Sponsor Me Entertainment teamed up with Transworld Surf, Surfing Live and ASP Hawaii to broadcast the entire event live. The two-day event will be broadcast live over the Internet by surf.transworld.net. This contest's holding period is from Aug. 15 to 22 with a good chance to start early this week with an incoming south/southeast swell in the forecast.