Pro-Am trials bridge surf gap to Oahu
The local surfers here know the legend of Myles Padaca, Noah Johnson and Spencer Skipper, and the guy with the golden radio voice for the wave reports — Orchidland Surf Shop owner Stan Lawrence.
For the land dwellers wondering who the first three are, here’s a six-word clue: Triple Crown, Eddie Aikau and master shredder.
Padaca, from Kalapana, won the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in 2001, becoming the Big Island’s first winner of the sport’s most prestigious three-jewel series championship.
Johnson, from Hilo, captured the Eddie Aikau championship, the contest only held with waves 25 feet and higher, in 1999 at 25 years old, the youngest winner.
Skipper, from Hilo, is one of the best bodyboard pros in the business. He finished in third place at the Pipeline Championships in February on Oahu’s North Shore.
Back in 1982, Lawrence started the Pro-Am Trials to give Big Island surfers an opportunity to compete in world class events on the North Shore.
Padaca, Johnson and Skipper all competed in the Pro-Am before they made their runs at glory. In fact, Padaca is a four-time Pro-Am champion.
The local surfing community can claim Shane Dorian, who’s from Kailua-Kona, as one of our own, too. He didn’t compete in the Pro-Am back in the day, but spent 11 years on the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Tour.
Lawrence is still going strong trying to uncover the next local surfing great. The 30th annual Big Island Quiksilver-Big Island Toyota Surfing Trials is his life’s work.
“I’ve done it for 30 years and want to help these kids out,” he said. “It’s something they really look forward to every year. It’s the one contest that they might break into the pro surfing world.
“That’s why I do it. It’s why a bunch of us do it, volunteer and nobody makes any money. We do it for the youth. The whole idea of this contest is to springboard our top Big Island surfers to Oahu and give them a chance to compete with the best surfers in the world and in the best surf in the world, the North Shore.”
On June 14 in 4 to 6 feet surf at Honolii Beach, Theo Landt won the men’s open, Shruti Greenwood the women’s open, Puna Moller the longboard open, and Sean Harvey the bodyboard open.
They all received airfare and entry fees to a pro surfing contest on Oahu, likely the Hawaiian Island Creations Pro in October.
Other top finishers also got the airfare-and-entry-fee gravy ticket: men’s open, Sean Oblero, second place; Ian Soutar, third; Lance Gruver, fourth; women’s open: Manu Napeahi, second; Longboard: Ulu Napeahi, second; bodyboard: Joey Salvador, second.
Tune in for the latest surfing report on TV and you’ll likely hear the name of John John Florence or Freddy Patacchia. They’re 12th with $62,000 in earnings, and 19th with $50,500 in earnings, respectively, in the ASP rankings.
Both also had the good fortune of being born on the North Shore, surfing’s mecca with Pipeline, Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay as backyard training grounds.
Carissa Moore’s name is, by far, the most popular. She’s No. 1 on the women’s ASP Tour with $172,250 in earnings, so far.
Like the other two ASP pros, Moore was born on Oahu. The 2010 Punahou graduate was the ASP World Champion in 2011 and ‘13.
If someone were to play the word association game, “pro surfing” and “Big Island” would probably be behind “pollution” and “fun times.”
However, Lawrence would drop in on the conversation and disagree.
“Per capita, we’ve got just as many good surfers as Oahu: Padaca, Johnson, Skipper and Dorian,” he said. “Those four are elite. Per capita for us, that’s a lot.”
It’s absolutely brutal to make it as a local pro because it’s a shark-like feeding frenzy with so many young and talented surfers emerging virtually every week.
They’re all chasing titles and sponsorships, and the Oahu surfers have the best surf spots in the world, as far as range of menu options from the big breaks of the North Shore to the glassy waves in town, the locals’ nickname for the Honolulu beaches.
What’s an aspiring Big Island surfer to do?
“There are so many young surfers who are competing at surf events on Oahu,” Lawrence said. “About three or four years ago, they started a point system. If you don’t have points, you can’t get in to the bigger events.
“Last year, Robert Patterson and Ulu Boy had points and got into surf events. Theo had no points for the qualifying series. The QS is sponsored by Vans, and Town and Country. We’d like to get them into that. If they win, they’d get points. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get guys in the North Shore events.
“That’s the biggest drawback. I feel they (ASP) should give us some leeway. Being on the outer island, we don’t have funds to travel. It’s been hard the last few years. All of the kids (Padaca, Johnson, Dorian, Skipper) moved to Oahu. They knew they couldn’t do it from here, with the air fare and travel.”
Still, Lawrence always remembers the story of Skipper, and how his sponsorships — the financial leash and lifeline for a surfer — blossomed with one iconic picture.
“There’s money to be made if you can get a sponsor,” Lawrence said. “That’s what happened to Skipper. He was sent to a contest, didn’t place but had some really good waves.
“He was on the cover of an Australian bodyboard magazine and all of a sudden he got sponsored, and he’s been sponsored ever since for over 10 to 15 years. It’s a pretty amazing story, from one cover shot. It’s every surfer’s dream to surf and get paid.”
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