Strong winds, weak surf continue at Haleiwa
By Stuart Cornuelle
This is how Hawaiian sponsorship used to work:
"Hey kid, nice cutback. Here's $3,000 a month. See you at one of our team houses this winter."
This is how Hawaiian sponsorship works now:
"Hey kid, nice rodeo flip, Pipe skills, cover shot, top-30 WQS rating and Zoolander good looks. Here's a t-shirt. Now f--k off."
Recessions. Fun for repo men, not fun for young pro surfers - especially in the islands, where the cost of living is higher than... a young pro surfer. The pain is evident in the number of clear-nosed boards at Haleiwa. Where there should be a big sponsor logo, there's just foam and stringer. And shame. There's a whole Lost Generation of local rippers here who just a few years ago were wide-eyed NSSA grads with big plans and big paychecks. Today, they were convened at Haleiwa, surfing to pay the bills.
Hank Gaskell is one of them. Dropped by Hurley without notice early this year, he's been burning through savings trying to keep the dream on oxygen. Chewing through a brown-bag snack of dried bananas before his heat, he admitted he had been preparing to look for a "real job" before his big win at the Xcel Pro this month. Crisis averted - for the moment.
Evan Valiere is another scrapper. The Kauaian rode for Quik once upon a time, but now does surf lessons and landscaping work to save for trips and contests. He made his heat today with fins-free surfing that had spectators tripping - "I thought he was just a Pipe guy."
There are more: Dege O'Connell of Maui lost MADA when they went out of business, and he now works construction; Ola Eleogram and Flynn Novak were on the since-dissolved No Fear team; Gavin Gillette; the list goes on.
Some, like Joel Centeio and TJ Barron, still have their big-name sponsors. Joel was announced a loser today at Haleiwa before an official tally revealed he'd actually placed first. But TJ wasn't so lucky - out in the Round of 96.
"It's always been scary, even riding for Billabong, because there's better kids coming up all the time," TJ said. Careers these days exist on a knife's edge, just a bad result away from obscurity.
ASP Hawaii is on the move to help these guys, ramping up a stronger local tour in 2010 that will make it easier to get ratings points without shelling out for round-trips to Europe and Brazil. They'll make a major announcement within 48 hours that should put some spring in the Hawaiians' step. Ooooh, cliffhanger.
Bruce won his heat. Not sure how; not gonna question it. He did a roundhouse in the last minute and got a 6.17 to advance, and now lives to surf another day. Bruce's only chance to get in the Billabong Pipe Masters is the Triple Crown wildcard, meaning he has to slay the first two VTC events at Haleiwa and Sunset. Everyone's baffled by this. Bruce not invited to Pipe is like Mick not invited to a push-up contest. But over 100 Hawaiian chargers were polled last year to see who'd get a golden Pipe Masters ticket, and Bruce wasn't among the six names voted in. The Haleiwa judges, at least, seem to want him there.
To summarize, the Reef Hawaiian Pro recommenced despite mediocre, chest- to head-high surf and strong side-offshore trade winds that made the weak waves even weaker. The lefts were longer but soft and slopey, while the rights broke quick and steep into the toilet bowl section. Contest directors had to pull the trigger because the forecast is bad until Sunday, and they still had three days of heats to run. Clay Marzo, Sunny Garcia, Tanner Gudauskas and Cory Lopez all won. Granger Larsen surfed like Parko and should win the Triple Crown Rookie of the Year. Andy Irons is two heats away from his debut, but that might not be until Sunday, when waves are supposed to arrive courtesy of a double-overhead swell. Real Haleiwa. When they do, look for the big names to shine. The best is most certainly yet to come.