While many on the U.S. mainland are no doubt mourning the end of summer and August vacations, the turn to cooler weather is an exciting time for one of Hawaii's favorite sports. Winter is surf season on the Islands, with the best waves and top contests.
The swells get bigger in the winter months, producing the picturesque tubes and towering wave faces that highlight magazine photo spreads. So, it is also the time when the professionals descend on the Islands for a series of major surf competitions, including big wave contests and short board showdowns where the surfers throw 360-degree spins and other tricks.
Land-loving spectators and surf aficionados alike can have fun taking in the high-level events, and many of the competition surf breaks, like the famed Banzai Pipeline, are close to shore and offer up-close action.
Much of the top action runs from October through January, with the Vans Triple Crown, three pro events all on Hawaii in the winter, anchoring the surf season. The Triple Crown, celebrating its 35th year in 2017, started as a grassroots competition run by local Hawaiian surfers. In 1971, the inaugural Pipe Masters put on by Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarick attracted six surfers who competed for $1,000. The idea to make a series out of the three surf spots came in 1983. Today, the Pipe Masters features 60 of the best surfers in the world competing for more than $500,000 in prize money.
Be sure to plan ahead for the surf contests listed below, as some of them draw large crowds and accommodations on Oahu's North Shore can fill up fast.
Turtle Bay Resort Pro: The World Surf League opens its winter Hawaii season with a women's, junior's and longboard pro event at the resort's right-hand break, Pool Bars. The event runs from Oct. 14 to 22.
HIC Pro: The official qualifying event for the Vans Triple Crown, the competition will be held Oct. 27 to Nov. 9 at Sunset Beach on Oahu's North Shore. Fans can cheer on both local surfers trying to break into the upper echelons of world competition, as well as pro surfers that have been touring for years. For more information on World Surf League events, including the triple crown and HIC, visit www.worldsurfleague.com.
Alii Beach: The first leg of the Vans Triple Crown kicks off Nov. 12 at this popular surf spot that starts the North Shore's "7-mile miracle," a stretch of multiple world-class surf breaks. This event is a qualifying event for the world tour, and conditions at the break can vary greatly depending on the swell, from fun smaller waves that invite more style from the surfers to larger waves that demand more respect and attention.
Sunset Beach: The second leg of the triple crown takes place at this deep-water big wave break Nov. 25 to Dec. 6. Surfers are tested by the massive wave faces, strong currents and the sometimes unpredictable patterns of the wave sets. Sunset was previously the heart of the North Shore competitive surf community, before advancements in surfboard technology that allowed for lighter, more streamlined boards, made Banzai Pipeline the spot for locals to test their mettle.
Billabong Pipe Masters: The third, and perhaps best known, installment of the triple crown, the Pipe Masters sees the pros tackle the beautiful but dangerously powerful tubes of Banzai Pipeline. Dec. 8 to 20. At this break enormous amounts of water come toward shore before exploding into barrel-shaped waves over a shallow reef. The proximity of the break to shore, not to mention the quality of surfers at the event, make it a spectator favorite. Both the triple crown and the World Surf League Championship Tour conclude at the Pipe Masters, so there are multiple coronations at the end.
Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau: After a dispute between the Aikau family and the event's sponsors put this big wave contest in jeopardy in late 2016, the World Surf League stepped in to put on the event. It's named for famed surfer and North Shore lifeguard Eddie Aikau. The contest only goes off when wave face heights hit 40 feet or more, and the Eddie has been held only nine times in its 32-year history. The holding period, when big wave surfers stay on alert for the start of the event at Waimea Bay, is from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28.
Volcom Pipeline Pro: While this is a top event, it is not part of the World Championship series, so the field ends up being a competitive mix of experienced Banzai Pipeline surfers trying to make it onto the tour as well as pros who want to make their mark on a famous break with plenty of media present. There are four surfers per heat, as opposed to two per heat at the Billabong Pipe Masters, so even the competition in the water for waves is stiffer. The exact dates for 2018 have not yet been announced, but the competition typically runs from late January into early February.