AN OPINION: AMERICAN SURFING – Bronze and Copper Not Worth Two Cents

Did you hear the good news? Team Hawaii and Team USA earned 3rd and 4th place (respectively) last week on the surfing world’s grandest stage! I bet those medals look good. A nice flashy bronze for Team Hawaii and an even flashier copper medal for Team USA. Third and fourth place, it must feel good. It makes sense. Three and four are of course both greater, numerically that is, than number one.

The sport of surfing sets aside Hawaii as a sovereign surfing region, separate and divided from the rest of the United States. It’s a unique situation. Especially compared to other sports. Scour the ASP or ISA websites and you’ll quickly notice that Hawaiians are given their own regional status. You’ll see the name Tonino Benson – and the acronym HAW. You’ll see Pat Gadauskas – and the acronym USA. Both are Americans, but only one noted as such. According the sport of surfing, Hawaiians are not of, or from, the USA – at least in any official capacity, categorization or classification.

Of course if Team Hawaii and Team USA would combine their efforts under one indivisible nationality they wouldn’t be able to show off those flashy 3rd and 4th place medals. So you see, Hawaii’s classification does no disservice. Unless you consider surfing super powers Hawaii and USA earning third and fourth place in the world a disservice. Nonetheless, it is, at the very least, sort of peculiar.

Why does the sport of surfing allow for this unique classification for Hawaii and not for say, Florida? One reason, according to the ASP’s Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, is respect.

“Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing and because Duke Kahanamoku gifted surfing to the world, Hawaii has traditionally been recognized as a surfing nation,” explained Bartholomew.

I wonder if that’s the same great Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku who won gold medals representing the USA in the Olympics games?

“The other reason for this is that for many decades Hawaii has produced many of the best surfers in the world,” said Bartholomew. “Hawaii has fielded its own teams in international events such as the ISF World Surfing Championships (1964-72), the ISA World Surfing Games(1978- ) and at IPS/ASP level(1976- ).”

Surfers in Hawaii do have a lot of history on their side. When you consider that surfing competitions took place in Hawaii before Hawaii was a State in the union, the regional classification starts to gain some clarity.

“Its (Hawaii’s classification as a sovereign surfing entity) beginnings date back to pre-statehood, when the old Makaha contest was going,” explained Triple Crown of Surfing director Randy Rarick. “The tradition and heritage has been reinforced during the old International Surfing Federation, the World Contest, and now with the ISA.”

That pre-statehood tradition and heritage was reinforced last week with a solid third place medal. But is it time for a change? Will this Hawaiian classification be a roadblock for the ISA’s efforts in getting surfing into the Olympic games?

Conventional wisdom is that Hawaii’s traditional classification would have no bearing on the International Olympic Committee decision to make surfing a medal sport. Hawaiian surfers would simply be put into the USA reserve of surfing talent, and we would no doubt be strong.

“I am pretty sure Hawaii would be recognized as the 50th state of the Union,” explained Bartholomew.

Whoa, talk about outside the box.

All history and tradition aside, the classification makes a lot sense from a practical standpoint. Hawaii is 2500 miles away from the US Mainland and has 750 miles of coastline on eight main islands. Top that off with some of the biggest, gnarliest, and most performance- oriented waves and the classification starts to make real sense. I hear there is movement under foot to classify Utah as a nation-state. After all, the best skiers, snow and mountains are in Utah.

“The Hawaiians benefit by creating a sense of community pride through surfing feats. They would lose out if amalgamated by the dilution of their representative numbers. This detachment and isolation in Hawaii serves the sport and the interests of Hawaii based surfers well,” said Bartholomew. “This tradition makes sense and there are no moves to bring Hawaii under the ASP North America banner and we know of no moves to make changes to Hawaii’s national status at ISA level.”

So, there you have it. As far as surfing is concerned, Hawaii will continue to be its own sovereign state and it’s probably a good thing. Can’t get enough Bronze and Copper medals. By the way, have you seen the price of copper lately? It is through the roof!