The Top Ten Greatest Moments In Vans Triple Crown Of Surfing History

Consider this the cream of the cream. On surfing's toughest stage, the best surfers in the world inevitably find it in themselves to achieve the impossible or at least make a damn good attempt at it. And since the {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown of Surfing is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year, we thought it only appropriate to recount the highlights in our special collector's booklet: Vans Triple Crown of Surfing: Then, Now and Beyond. From Joey Buran's triumph to Kelly and Andy's battle, they're all in here. And starting today, Nov. 12, we have a whole 'nother season to create new memories. Check out the moments and be sure to get your collector's booklet in surf shop copies of the December issue of SURFING Magazine.

KELLY LOVES ANDY(pictured above)

You could feel the tension building like two tectonic plates on the verge of a cataclysmic shift. All year in 2003, Kelly Slater and Andy Irons made their chief rival known. Stink eyes, call-outs and not-so-subtle claims. It was age versus youth, East Coast versus Hawaii, the white knight versus the Hawaiian ninja. Whatever you called it, it was already the greatest rivalry in pro surfing, and it all culminated in the Pipe Masters final. Whoever won in the chunky, 4- to 6-foot rights would win the title. Either Andy would back up his 2002 crown or Kelly would complete his comeback – his first title since 1998. But before the monumental heat started, there was suddenly Andy and Kelly…on the beach…embracing? What did Kelly say to Andy? It was later revealed he told him he loved him. Sincere gesture or mind game? We're still not sure, and it certainly didn't mess with Andy's head as he went on to win his second world title. But the moment – and the words – will go down as one of the most intriguing exchanges in surf competition history.


It was the slap heard 'round the world. When Rob Machado came flying out of the pit to high-five Kelly Slater during the '95 Pipe Masters, it gave one of the fiercest heats in North Shore history a surprisingly friendly feel. As Slater later noted, "It showed just how much we [the Momentum Generation] loved what we were doing." Slates won that heat, and the event, coming from behind to take his third World Title. But, ironically, that contest also marked the end of the good times era as Slater never felt the same pressure from his own peers and retired two years later. By the time he jumped back on tour, there was new crew of bloodthirsty competitors who loved one thing: destroying their opponents. These days, Pipe Masters hand jives consist of creative "shotgun" claims — and pointing fingers at the one surfer they still most want to beat.


"Alone in that utterly silent moment of freefall down the face of the wave, the impossibly accurate first turn, the perfect stillness and control in the midst of chaos." So Nick Carroll describes where you see "the true TC" — aka Tom Carroll — and there's no greater example than 1991's vision of the three-time world champ at Pipeline, snapping beneath the lip on a legitimate 10-footer. From Lopez (Gerry) to Lopez (Cory), there are countless examples of stylish set-ups, shockingly deep caverns and horrendous wipeouts. But to this day, that image of the Aussie goofyfoot cranking hard in the most critical position – white helmet, pink board, black swoosh — remains not only the reigning example of power and performance at Pipeline, but arguably the most memorable top turn in surfing history.


Hawaii waited a long time for its first world champ. A thousand years, to be exact. Despite being the culture that gave birth to waveriding in roughly 1000 AD — and remaining the ultimate proving grounds for surfers across the globe — the Aloha State saw dreams of WCT titles continually squashed by countries with one-tenth the time in the water. All that changed in 1993 when Derek Ho won the Pipeline Masters, and in the process won the world title ahead of seven other contenders – including an international line-up of former champions that included South Africa's Martin Potter, Australia's Damien Hardman and a young US phenom named Kelly Slater. Nearly 15 years later, with the success of Sunny Garcia and Andy Irons, it's hard to imagine a sport without a Hawaiian title-holder, but back then Ho's win was a monumental feat a full millennium in the making.


All contests are inherently corporate. Especially nowadays when even the most soulful grom series or benefit is inevitably "presented by" Big Surfwear Inc. or "in conjunction with" Giant Eyewear Conglomerate, {{{LTD}}}. But in the early '90s, surf comps sought even bigger bucks by courting everyone from cars and beer brands to hair gel. All of which made it all the more shocking when America's favorite stylemaster and only world champ at the time – the man with the most to gain or lose — surfed the 1991 Wyland Gallery Pro on a completely logo-less board. When Curren won, his sponsor predictably rewarded his revolutionary act by setting him free. But the anarchist proved his business acumen was actually quite keen: he signed the richest contract in surfing history with Rip Curl just a couple weeks later.


"Don't' forget to pick up your trash." That's what Myles Padaca had to say after winning the Rip Curl Cup in 2001. Despite being a longtime Sunset Beach local, the 30-year-old underdog pulled off the nearly unthinkable by becoming the first trialist to win since Johnny Boy Gomes in 1993. In the process, he'd also taken down a list of supposedly superior 'CT talents, including Kalani Robb, Mick Lowe and freshly crowned world champ {{{CJ}}} Hobgood, proving that insider knowledge still reigns supreme at this hunk of royal North Shore real estate. Even better, with his third at Haleiwa, Padaca's Sunset victory paved the way for a prestigious Triple Crown win, making his post-contest pro-environment speech surprisingly prescient. After all, he'd already cleaned up.


To win a pro contest at the world's most demanding wave is a feat in itself. But to win two, just a couple weeks apart, is downright superhuman. But then, Gary "Kong" Elkerton was no typical pro in 1987. He'd been on a mad training mission in pursuit of a world title, entering triathlons, cleaning up his party act and shedding his nickname, "Kong." His seriousness became clear in the first event, the Hard Rock Caf World Cup, when he dominated by winning every heat in solid, 10- to 12-foot surf. Before he even had time to reflect on it, he found himself in the Billabong Pro, at Sunset again, in a final against Glen Winton, Shaun Tomson and Martin Potter. Shaun looked strong, but Elko prevailed once again, sealing his command of the shifty, unpredictable righthander. "All I ever wanted to do was win a contest at Sunset," Elkerton told SURFING at the time. "Now I've won two." No surfer before or since has ever dominated Sunset like Elkerton did in the fall of 1987.


Not only did he beat the unbeatable Kelly Slater in Round One, Johnny Boy Gomes — along with his 41-year-old compatriot, Michael Ho — proved the wildcards can be deadlier than the seeds. In the 1997 Pipeline Masters, the powerful Westsider marched past Kaipo Jaquias, Kalani Robb and Shane Dorian en route to his status-affirming victory in 6-foot lefts. "Winning the Pipe Masters was my greatest accomplishment," Gomes recently said. "I really like Kelly's surfing, but to beat him twice in one day was…well, yeah. I loved it." His duel with Ho remains the only all-wildcard final the WCT has seen.


Curren was the new California kid in 1984, but in North Shore conditions that Leonard Brady called, "The most thrilling contest since the '74 Smirnoff," Joey Buran proved he had some fight left in him. In harrowing, 10- to 15-foot Pipe, Buran made drop after impossible drop, thanking the heavens after every cannon-blast to the shoulder. Buran became the first Californian to win the Masters — and it would take 16 years for another one to follow.


Anyone else would've called it quits. But Sunny Garcia — arguably the most tireless competitor in pro surfing history — is not anyone else. On the final day of the 1992 Pipeline Masters, Garcia smacked the Backdoor reef at the end of his quarterfinal heat and was treated at the hospital for a torn muscle in his left forearm. He made it out of the ER in time to hitchhike back to Pipe, make it to his semifinal heat just in time and advance to the final. Thirteen minutes into the final, he hit the reef again — this time head-first, and was rushed to the hospital and treated for a concussion. He still finished runner-up. "I guess I was winning until the very end," {{{recalls}}} Garcia, "but Kelly got a little head-dip off the sandbar and beat me. I might not remember much from that day, but I do know this: I should've won that thing"

[Catch the special collector's booklet: Vans Triple Crown of Surfing: Then, Now and Beyond available with the December 2007 issue of SURFING]

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