Reef Hawaiian Pro Opening on the North Shore of Oahu–Photo Courtesy of ASP and Vans Triple Crown of Surfing

All eyes are on the North Shore of Oahu from now until the end of the year when it comes to surfing. As the season for huge swells hits the Islands and the Vans Triple Crown gets underway, the North Shore, also know as “The Country” becomes a Mecca for the best men and women pro surfers in the world -not to mention top photographers and fans which provide a major economic stimulus to the Island of Oahu.

One of the first major announcements of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, sponsored by Rockstar Energy Drink, was a bonus purse of prize money making it the first $1,000,000 stop on the overall Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Dream Tour. Some 150 pros from 17 nations will get a chance to win, starting first up with the Crown Jewel #1 at Haleiwa Beach during the Reef Hawaiian Pro.

The way the prize money stacks up, $50,000 goes to the men’s Triple Crown series champ, and extra $50,000 for the Billabong Pipeline Masters (the last event in the triple series), and another bonus $50,000 to the overall ASP men’s world champ. Women pro surfers vie for $25,000 bonus for the Triple Crown champ. Overall, this is an additional $175,000 in addition to the existing $825,000 already offered in event prize money, making it total of $1 million.

As we reported in a previous story on the ASP changes announced from the Board of Directors, the women’s pro surfers prize money has increased overall for the tour as it will again in 2010, but as calculated for the Vans Triple Crown, while the additional prize money from Vans to make it a cool $1 million in total purse allotment, only $25,000 goes to 1 woman pro as the overall Triple Crown champ. Obviously, we’re not the only ones that keep bringing up the inequality issue in women’s surfing prize money, but it bears constant repeating, especially given how much women in surfing provide to the overall lifestyle of the industry as a whole.

Stephanie Gilmore, 21-year-old reigning two-time ASP Women’s World Champion and current ASP Women’s World No. 1 leads the charge in the hunt for the 2009 ASP Women’s World Title. Credit: %uFFFD ASP/ CI/ SCHOLTZ via GETTY IMAGES

Another aspect to note for newbies unfamiliar with sponsorship practices when it comes to surfing, especially the Triple Crown, yes, there are several “sponsors” of what appear to be already sponsored events. For example, and I’ll put the sponsors in quotes for clarification, it’s the “Vans” Triple Crown of Surfing overall as the originators, but presented by “Rockstar Energy Drink.” The first event of the “Vans” Triple Crown series is actually the “Reef” Hawaiian Pro (men’s), then the “Vans” Hawaiian pro (women’s), followed by the “Gidget” Pro Sunset Beach (women’s) followed by the “O’Neill” World Cup of Surfing (men’s), and ending with the Big Kahuna event that determines of the overall Triple Crown Winner (and an additional $50,000 for the male winner and $25,000 for the female winner) called the “Billabong” Pro Maui (women’s) and the “Billabong” Pipeline Masters (men’s) at Banzai Pipeline running from December 8-20.

The Triple Crown is already underway for both men and women and you can get mobile text alerts such as whose leading, wave conditions, etc. from signing up at just as soon as the legendary master of ceremonies, Director Randy Rarick makes the call each day. So far in the women’s first event, Stephanie Gilmore, 21, from Australia and a reigning 2-time ASP Women’s World Champ is leading the field, followed by Silvana Lima, 25, from Brazil, Sofia Mulanovich, 26, from Peru, and Coco Ho, 18, from Hawaii. The big hype right now is between Coco Ho and Stephanie Gilmore.

In the men’s division, the heats are still going strong, but the attention remains on Joel Parkinson as the defending Triple Crown champ, Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, and veteran Sunny Garcia. Stay tuned for more from both men’s and women’s competitions as the events heat up.

In other surfing news, the ASP European President David Mailman talks about the changes to take place for the surfing series in 2010. According to the ASP in an interesting interview with David, the main change that he sees moving forward is the one world seeding system. In theory, this will allow for talented new blood to gain enough seed points to be able to surf in the ASP World Tour events from their first season on tour. This goes hand in hand with the reduction of the field for the ASP World Tour events from 48 to 36 surfers. However, much will depend on the actual event formats that the ASP chooses to run with in 2010.

“I am not convinced that any of the existing formats are the appropriate way to go to showcase the “sport” of surfing. I think that “competitive” surfing should reflect “free” surfing as much as possible. As it stands, that is not the case today. But, it is a point that is open for debate, and that will undoubtedly continue to be debated for many years to come.”

Photo Courtest of ASP of Surfing

Finally in our surfing round-up, the 25th Anniversary Quiksilver in memory of Eddie Aikau (fueled by Monster Energy) announced their invitees for what’s notoriously one of the biggest-wave surf competitions each year. The holding period runs from December 1- February 28, 2010, waiting until waves exceed 20 feet at a minimum before competitors hit the water to contend for $98,000 in prize money.

To be invited to this event is prestigious indeed, and it doesn’t always run despite the sponsorship dollars, prize money dedicated to the event, and the elaborate and traditional opening ceremony. It’s all based on Mother Nature providing at least some major pumping surf: The “Eddie” has actually only run 7 times in the past 24 years of the event. But when it does run, the big-guns (long, big-wave surfboards) come out along with helicopters capturing the action, and scores of photographers. Invitees and Alternate Invitees include such heavyweights as Bruce Irons (former Eddie champ), Michael Ho, Peter Mel, Ross Clarke-Jones, Kala Alexander, Derrick Ho, and Laurie Towner. Yes, this is one event where a handful of women are invited as well to compete along with men, and have the opportunity to win the exact same prize money if crowned the Quiksilver “Eddie Aikau” fueled by Monster Energy champion.

Stay tuned for more surfing news as the Vans Triple Crown series and Quiksilver Eddie Aikau get underway.