The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is about to kick off with the Hawaiian Pro, which will run between November 13 - 24 at Haleiwa, on the North Shore of Oahu. Surfers from across the globe will be pitted against local Hawaiian athletes, and potentially, World Title contenders including Jordy Smith.
The Triple Crown is the longest-running contest series in surfing. Since 1983, the world's best surfers have made the pilgrimage to "The Rock" to test themselves against the Pacific. And it all starts at Haleiwa - one of the trickiest waves on the North Shore - where powerful west-northwest swells break over a shallow, volcanic reef.
Triple Crown competitors have already been on the ground for weeks, dialing in their boards and enjoying the first swells of the winter season. Maui's next big thing, 17-year-old Eli Hanneman, is amongst the up-and-comers preparing for his first-ever Vans Triple Crown series.
"I feel like it's definitely an advantage to be from Hawaii, just ‘cause you are used to the way the waves are [with] a little more power," Hanneman said.
Another young surfer to keep a close eye on is Barron Mamiya. He's currently No. 12 on the QS and will be looking to qualify for the Championship Tour in his backyard.
The wave is primarily a long and shifty right-hander, but there's a shorter running left which also has the potential for solid scores. If it gets big, surfers will have to negotiate a tricky inside section known as the "Toilet Bowl" which provides a canvas for some dramatic closing moves.
This is a wave that really tests one's ability to read the lineup. While the ideal winds can groom it to perfection, in recent years competitors have battled challenging conditions. A strong rip current known as "the treadmill" can pull even the most experienced surfers into the impact zone, and the bombs can serve up the barrel of a lifetime, or a board-breaking closeout.
A QS contender to keep a close eye is WA phenom Jack Robinson, who cut his teeth in the raw and rugged Margaret River region. Notorious for charging the world's heaviest waves from a young age, Robinson has shown he has what it takes to win on the North Shore. This year he took out the 2019 Volcom Pipe Pro, and in 2017 he won the Sunset Open, two major QS accolades.
On the other hand, CT surfers such as Hawaiian powerhouse Ezekiel Lau, who is currently sitting on the re-qualification bubble, will be giving this event everything they have to stay on Tour. Zeke is a formidable competitor who thrives in the Vans Triple Crown events, taking home the Vans World Cup last year.
"Being on the bubble is kind of hard, just dealing with the pressure. But I'm in the best place to do it. I'm at home, I'm sleeping in my own bed, I'm surfing the waves I'm most comfortable with. So I'm just going in trying to keep a positive mindset," Lau said.
Haleiwa is known as the gateway to the North Shore, and is the first break surfers encounter when visiting the Seven-Mile Miracle. It's a hub of activity for locals and visitors alike, with multiple surf shops, cafes, and restaurants. But most of all, it's a proving ground for the world's best.
Over the years, there has been no shortage of drama out of the water, either. In 1991, three-time World Champion Tom Curren famously won the contest on a Maurice Cole-shaped reverse vee without sponsor stickers on it. While It was assumed that he was making a rebellious statement shunning the surf industry, in fact, the board had only been sprung from customs the night before and Curren and Cole were scrambling just to make the heat.
"So, I give him the board and tell him to get out there. He looks at me, and asks, ‘Got any wax?'" recalled Cole.
Watch the Hawaiian Pro live on worldsurfleague.com and the WSL App, November 13-24.