Winter surfing brings wave of activity to bucolic North Shore


When giant surf starts to roll in to Oahu's North Shore each winter, area businesses -- restaurants, surf shops, bed-and-breakfasts and the lone large hotel, Turtle Bay Resort -- look forward to a wave of dollars that also arrives.

HAW-NorthShoreOahu's winter surf season begins in October and continues to pump dollars into the mostly rural local economy through March as visitors flock to see what's arguably the best surf in the world.

When an 18-foot north swell arrived in mid-October, several North Shore business people having breakfast at Cafe Haleiwa in Haleiwa joked that Mother Nature was sending "an economic stimulus package."

"Big surf equals cash flow," said Kimo Johnson, an apparel shop employee.

With the waves comes the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competition, a series of three professional surfing tournaments for the world's top male and female surfers.

The series, in its 26th year, offers $815,000 in prizes.

This year's event, already under way, runs through Dec. 20.

"Sales double between June and December at the Northshore Boardriders Club in Haleiwa," said Vince Brady, assistant manager of the club's North Shore surf shop.

"Winter is really the best time for us. Anything in the store with North Shore written on it will sell."

In 2003, the first independent study of the Triple Crown's economic benefits showed the event attracted 1,200 visitors (spectators as well as surfers) and generated $7.3 million in a six-week period.

A follow-up study released in 2006 showed that the Triple Crown effect had increased dramatically.

The event attracted some 7,000 visitors, generating $14.6 million in total spending, $8.9 million of that in direct spending.

According to Randy Rarick, Triple Crown's executive director revenue generated in 2006 was "a huge amount for such a short period of time on the North Shore."

"People will come out to the North Shore to watch the surf no matter what and spend money" he said. "But with the Triple Crown, you have all these large sponsors spending for things like major catered company parties."

Today, 17 nations fly their flag at the Triple Crown and some 260 competitors as well as hundreds of visitors create a huge demand for vacation rentals and food.

"With them also come girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, photographers, sponsor representatives, team captains, scouts, clothing companies and all the magazines that cover the competition," Rarick said.

Vacation rentals and B&Bs on the North Shore are gobbled up well before the first Triple Crown event, largely because of the lack of a significant hotel presence aside from Turtle Bay.

HAW-BoardsNowadays, some North Shore beachfront homes rented by the surfers go for $30,000 a month.

"Winter surf plays a big role in our local economy, and it comes as a welcome relief," said Roberto Lopes, Realtor/Principle Broker for Haleiwa's Team Real Estate.

Triple Crown sponsors in Hawaii include Hawaiian Airlines and Turtle Bay.

Official car rental company Advantage Rent A Car is waiving fees for young drivers and additional drivers.

"Because the Triple Crown ... takes place over the course of several weeks, we know participants and spectators are looking for a great value on their rental car," said Denny Hecker, chairman of Advantage Rent A Car.

Studies by the Hawaii Tourism Authority showed that 51% of overnight visitors to Oahu venture out to the North Shore. That translates to more than 2 million people annually.

In winter, many of them head for the Triple Crown, one of the last few free events in the Aloha State.

"It doesn't cost a penny to watch a surfing event. Even parking is free," Rarick said.

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