"It's a special place and a special wave," Michel Bourez said. "Haleiwa has been great to me in my career, but it's also one of the waves I've most enjoyed freesurfing on the North Shore. It offers so much for a surfer."
Haleiwa is, of course, the venue for the Hawaiian Pro -- the first contest of the Triple Crown -- the event window opens on November 12. Bourez last won the event in 2013, to add to the one he bagged in 2008. The first victory was particularly crucial as Bourez came from deep in the QS rankings to take the win and secure his CT qualification.
Only four other surfers have claimed multiple Hawaiian Pro titles and it's no surprise that three of them are icons of the sport; Mark Richards, Sunny Garcia and Andy Irons. Like Bourez those legends had a perfect mix of power and progression in their surfing that perfectly matched Haleiwa's unique attributes. It has a serious claim to being the world's premier big-wave performance location and one of the only waves on tour that allows competitors to unleash a full range of maneuvers and tuberides in double or triple overhead conditions. It's like Trestles -- but on steroids and with a gnarly rip that is forever trying to drag the surfers into its powerful jaws.
"Haleiwa is a serious wave when it's on and it's big and west," Gary Elkerton the 1987 winner told Vans. "Those are the days when a lot of guys go to Sunset and Pipe. Very few would challenge Haleiwa. Rabbit took me down there a few times and it scared the bejesus out of me! It's a wave to be reckoned with."
On the types of days to which Elkerton is referring, huge lumbering peaks break first on the outside reef at Avalanches, giving competitors two or three minutes to try to get in position for waves that can have faces of up to 30 feet. If the surfers place themselves too deep, the sets can break in front of them and trap them in the impact zone. Once caught here, the reef setup allows you to neither paddle back out nor get pushed you toward shore.
The surfers are stuck in a whirlpool and have to wait it out as six-wave sets target their stationary bodies for punishment. If the competitors play it safer and stay wide nearer the channel, the reeling righthanders and the huge points on offer can miss them altogether. However, when they find the sweet spot, a three-hundred yard wave can provide at least four or five open sections and the opportunity of a huge barrel.
Haleiwa, though, is not always so death-defying. It breaks as small as three feet on the Hawaiian scale and even up to six feet provides playful walls and crumbling lips. In these conditions, the aerial aspect of surfing comes into play. Last year John John Florence used his gold-standard, above-the-lip surfing to win his first Hawaiian Pro, which helped him later claim his third Vans Triple Crown title. Another highlight from last year's event was a massive rotation by Griffin Colapinto. That single maneuver showed how the new generation are taking to Haleiwa and how the wave is adaptable to any type of conditions, and surfing, that is thrown at it.
It is for that reason that the Hawaiian Pro remains one of the most celebrated and heavily fought surfing competitions on tour. The history is there, sure, but it is the wave itself that adds to the pedigree. It is a break that tests every aspect of a surfer's talent and ambition. To win here you need to be brave, progressive and powerful and that is a mix that typically only the very best surfers in the world have.