But let’s not be coy. The North Shore can be a nightmare for the ill-prepared. Surf movies and magazines can send arriving surfers an image of an idyllic wave scape, one that is easily navigated and full of daily wave riding pleasures. On the plane trip over, you picture yourself paddling out and casually stroking into a set wave at Pipe, cameras trained on your every turn, the sun glinting off your wet skin. Try again. The waves on the North Shore are notoriously unpredictable. The power is relentless and conditions can change in an instant. Increasing swells, wind shifts, and tidal fluctuations can transform an average session into a Hellish spin cycle, breaking boards and bones and sucking the unworthy out to sea. And for the love of all things sacred…the crowds! Nothing can prepare you for a clean day at mid-sized Pipe or Rocky Point. Just getting one or two good rides in a four hour session can take every ounce of guts and grit you got as you sit elbow to elbow with every living legend and aspiring professional surfer on the planet as freak sets explode on the outer reef every 20 minutes. This isn’t Kansas Dorothy. You aren’t king of the peak like you were a day ago at your home break. It’s the North Shore. It’s horrible and heavenly all at once, and it’s the ultimate venue for the ultimate series of contests: The Triple Crown of Surfing.
Since 1983, three major events held in very different waves on the North Shore have culminated in the crowning of one Triple Crown of Surfing champion. Each year, as the elite world tour crowds the relative calm of Haleiwa and Sunset Beach, so begins surfing’s premier competition. Multiple winner Sunny Garcia boldly stated, "Winning the Triple Crown title means more than winning the world title. It means you've accomplished the task among your peers in the world's best waves." Even among today’s Dream Tour schedule that finds surfers competing in beach and reef breaks in Tahiti, Spain, California, Australia, and beyond; the Triple Crown commands the world’s attention and respect.
The Triple Crown was the brain child of world champion surfer and former state senator Fred Hemmings and has been steered by contest director Randy Rarick since its inception. The idea was to create a series of events that challenge the athleticism and guts of surfing’s elite while also giving local Hawaiian stand-outs a shot at competing against the world’s best. The events have always been held at Haleiwa, Sunset, and Pipeline; however, only Pipeline counts towards the ASP world title. So the Triple Crown is sort of a title within a title with the surfer who amasses the most points over the three events taking the crown. As the Hemmings and Rarick gave up control of their International Professional Surfing tour to Ian Cairnes’ Association of Surfing Professionals, they created this mini tour to occur during surfing’s heaviest conditions and at the time when all the world’s best surfers are in town ready to battle for gold and glory.
The venues include Haleiwa, Sunset, and Pipeline. Haleiwa, a fast right-hander, offers big drops and opportunities for short but blood curdling barrels and big turns before unloading over the swirling shallow inside “toilet bowl”. Sunset Beach is the preeminent shifting mountain peak that breaks a half mile out to sea amid swirling currents and often lashing winds. The wave by design is punctuated by a sprawling drop, a shifting sometimes soft mid-section that ends with an inside kick to the throttle that can open wide or clamp shut. Then there’s Pipe. On paper, it’s the perfect doodle on a kid’s notebook in English class. In reality, it’s a hyper vertical drop over a shallow reef into a massive barrel. It’s the stuff of dreams…the stuff of nightmares.
The first Triple Crown of Surfing was won by Michael Ho, and the events have since been the scene of some of surfing’s greatest moments. Gary “Kong” Ellkerton’s utter domination, Sunny Garcia’s fiery intensity; Kelly Slater’s last minute heroics and his rivalry with Any Irons that has become the stuff of surfing legend; and Sebastian Zietz’s meteoric and uncanny rise to fame make up just a smidgen of the great moments but are exactly what Hemmings imagined when setting up a card table and some folding chairs on the beach in 1983.