Randy Rarick, Executive Director of the Triple Crown of Surfing, goes on record
By Stuart Cornuelle
When we spoke to Sunny Garcia last month about the unfortunate end to his 2009 Vans Triple Crown campaign (a late arrival, a missed heat, an injustice suspected), we only got one side of the story: Sunny's. Oozing as we are with journalistic integrity, we had to seek out input from the other parties involved in the incident, which took place on December 11 at the Billabong Pipeline Masters. Specifically, we had to question Randy Rarick, the event's Executive Director and the man tasked with informing Sunny of his dismissal from the contest.
Luckily, Randy contacted us first.
Randy Rarick: Before we begin, let me give you a bit of historical background about Sunny, my relationship with him and the details behind the Pipeline Masters.
I’ve known Sunny since he surfed in the Gotcha Pro at Sandy Beach back in the mid-'80s. You have to realize, he was 15 years old, and that was 25 years ago! Coming from the West Side and the limited social-economic background that he had, surfing was his ticket to success. His aggressive attitude and desire to succeed are what gave him the fire to be such a tempestuous competitor.
Over the years, I watched Sunny use this attitude to his advantage, and in doing so, grow and mature as one of the best competitive surfers Hawaii has ever produced. I’ve dealt with him in my role as a contest director, as regional director for ASP Hawaii, as a board member for ASP International and as an event producer. Because I always represented the “establishment” or the “voice of authority," it was inevitable I would clash with Sunny. Many times we agreed to disagree, and I never took any of his positions personally. By the same token, while a lot of times I was confounded by his positions, I never took it as personal towards him.
In fact, while he’s been a pain in the ass many a time, I’ll go on record saying I think he’s one of the world's best surfers — certainly one of Hawaii’s best. He’s got one of the best power styles I’ve ever seen and he’s a pleasure to watch surf. Over the years, he’s done a good job of looking out not only for his own interests, but those of his fellow competitors. Last winter he stayed two houses away from me and I saw him every day, and this past winter, he would be at the beach each morning when we made the daily call and we were congenial as ever to each other. So, I want to make it very clear to all, that despite some naysayers, I have the utmost respect for Sunny. I don’t have anything against him and I’ll go surf with him at Sunset anytime.
In regard to the Pipeline Masters, the format for that event is unique among all Championship Tour events. This is an outgrowth of the decision five years ago as a concession to the Hawaii Pro Surfers Union (HPSU), to ensure that the event had valid local representation. Without going into all the myriad details, the salient points are that 16 additional surfers get a start as “Local Pipeline Specialists." Eight of them qualified earlier in the year at the Pipeline Pro WQS event, plus an additional six were selected from a peer pole of the HPSU membership, for a total of 14 pre-qualifiers. The 15th spot went to the top Tahitian (Manoa Drollet), and the 16th spot was reserved for a “Vans Triple Crown Contender." This is how Sunny got a start in the event. I want to make it very clear, he was one of the 16 additional surfers to get a start and WAS NOT a World Championship Tour competitor.
As has been the case for the past five years, in the event of a no-show for one of these 16 surfers, the next designated local surfer will take his place. The first three wildcard slots are divided between Vans (the event license holder) and Billabong (the event title sponsor). These three slots are rotated, with Vans getting the first (John John Florence), Billabong the second (Shane Dorian), Vans the third (Bruce Irons) and Billabong the first alternate slot (Torrey Meister). After that it goes off the results of the next highest surfer from the WQS Pipeline Pro qualifying event, and this year that was Evan Valiere.
In the first round of the event, you can replace a no-show surfer if he is one of the 16. The ASP rule applies ONLY to WCT surfers and not to the local 16. This is to ensure there are 16 local surfers represented. Thus, regardless of who is injured, late or misses their heat for whatever reason, an alternate surfer is standing by.
SURFING Magazine: Can you elaborate on your recollection of the morning’s events, to the best of your memory?
RANDY RARICK: The surf was pretty good, so we called the event on and got underway with Round One. With the overlapping heat format, the event moves along quicker, because despite man-on-man judging, you have two heats in the water at the same time. This makes for double the action and moves a round through in a little over five and a half hours, as opposed to a straight man-on-man round, which take eight hours to finish. I think Sunny miscalculated the running time and didn’t realize his heat would come up as soon as it did.
When it came time for his heat, the announcers repeatedly called his name, and when there were 10 minutes to go, the announcers called the next alternate in line (Torrey Meister), who was put on notice to get ready.
With five minutes to go, the rules state that the alternate is to take the place of the no-show competitor. I was up in the tower, and noticed there was no one paddling out, so I went down to the Beach Marshal and asked what was going on. The Beach Marshal, Aaron Walters, said he just assumed Sunny was there and that he was waiting for Sunny to show up.
By this time, the previous heat was almost over and Torrey had not been given a jersey, so I immediately told him to suit up and get out there. As it was, Torrey paddled out late. Three minutes into the heat, Sunny came running down and made a move to grab a jersey to paddle out, and it was then that I informed him he was too late for his heat and that an alternate had taken his place. He tried to grab the jersey and said he’d go out anyway, and I said, I’m sorry to say, it was too late, that he had been replaced, the heat had started and there was nothing I could do at that stage. I told him it was such a bummer, as he was in contention for a Triple Crown Title — which obviously would have been really good not only for him, but an insane promotional angle for the Vans Triple Crown. I asked why he was so late, and he explained to me he had run up to Makua [Rothman's] to get his fins and was snagged in traffic on the way back. I watched him go through the full gamut of emotions from supreme anger to ultimate frustration to the realization that he’d simply gotten there too late.
What from Sunny’s recent account do you consider inaccurate?
Well, first off, Sunny did not know the rules, and tried to apply the WCT rules to his situation, which weren’t applicable — and honestly, I just don’t think he was mentally prepared or up to date on all the rules of the event.
Then to imply there was some sort of conspiracy with Billabong and their rider getting into the event and winning the Triple Crown was absurd, since Torrey had been patiently waiting all morning for a start in the event and Joel Parkinson just happened to be the most consistent competitor over the winter season.
In addition, his comments about Evan Valiere were incorrect. As explained above, Evan was next in line for the alternate slot.
After the initial anger and frustration wore off, Sunny wanted to know what recourse he had for missing the heat. As the Executive Director, I made the call to offer him the option of becoming the next in line on the alternate list, if Evan was willing to give up his spot. So, right there in the competitors' area, I asked Evan personally if he would be willing to give his slot to Sunny, should another no-show opportunity arise.
Obviously, Evan didn’t want to give up his slot, but he looked at Sunny and — being from Kauai — said something to the effect of, “You deserve the chance and if I can help that chance, then I’ll forgo my slot." I don’t remember the exact words, but it was a very cool, unselfish move on Evan’s part, and that's something Sunny should always remember.
To be clear: I asked Evan if he was willingly giving up his slot and he said, For sure, and I think he and Sunny shook on it. So I told Sunny to stay on top of it and if there was another no-show, then he would get in. Unfortunately that did not come to pass.
Is it true that someone at the beach wrongly indicated that Sunny wouldn't be surfing, due to injury — a person from Billabong, as Sunny suspected?
I never heard about anything like that — and certainly nothing from anyone at Billabong. There was speculation in the competitors' tent as to why Sunny wasn’t showing up, and someone might have said they thought he was hurt, but nothing official was ever said to me. I was constantly in touch with the Billabong crew, and they never said a word to me to that effect.
So Adriano [de Souza] and Kelly weren't replaced — even though they, too, were late for their heats — because they were seeded World Tour surfers.
Right. As I explained, that rule only applies to the CT surfers and not to the 16 extra slots, which are there to ensure sufficient representation for the Hawaiians.
Do you admit any wrongdoing on behalf of the ASP or contest organizers?
You can see from what I've explained that I was completely in the right, and actually stretched my authority to try and assist Sunny. Had I let Sunny go out and kick Torrey out of the water, then that would have been wrongdoing!
Will there be any compensation to Sunny or Evan as a result of what happened?
Unfortunately, both Sunny and Evan fell short in the recently completed Volcom Pipeline Pro, which qualified 10 locals for the reduced field of the 2010 Billabong Pipeline Masters — so hopefully, either may make it as a Vans Triple Crown Contender instead.
I’ve been running events on the North Shore for 35 years, so I feel I’m in a pretty good position to judge how things should be handled. To all the bloggers who think they know what they are talking about, learn the facts, then weigh in with your opinion. I think this whole issue got blown out of proportion, and had Sunny been aware of the rules, he would have reacted differently — and let’s face it, had he just shown up on time for his heat and let his surfing do the talking, it would have been an entirely different outcome.