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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Harris wants new rules for water sports events

By Dayton Morinaga and Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writers

Mayor Jeremy Harris said last night he is moving responsibility for water sports events from the Parks and Recreation Department to the Office of Economic Development, after parks officials apparently denied permits for two major North Shore bodyboarding events requested for January and February.

But Harris said he can't change the schedule for the current season because the rules were followed in the permit process.

The contest schedule for January and February has not been released by the city, but bodyboarding contest directors Robert Thomas and Carol Philips said they were told by city officials that their events would not receive permits.

"Our goal," Harris said, "is to immediately start to work on the schedule for next fall with promoters of all water sports events so that the city can support and promote competitive surfing, bodyboarding and bodysurfing events to expand sports tourism in Hawai'i."

Proposals for new rules and regulations for future competitions will be drafted and then put out for public comment, Harris said.

Thomas said last night he was still confident that a compromise could be reached to allow his event to run in January.

"If we have to, we'll go down there (to Honolulu Hale) again and again," he said. "You can't just take it away from us and expect us to be OK with it."

Thomas is director of the World Bodyboard Championships, the most prestigious event in that sport. It has been staged at the Banzai Pipeline every year since 1983.

Philips is director of the World Championship of Women's Bodyboarding, the only all-female event at Pipeline, which has run for 13 consecutive years.

More than 30 professional bodyboarding competitors and contest organizers staged a rally in front of Honolulu Hale yesterday afternoon in an attempt to save their events.

"We're not trying to cause problems for anyone," nine-time world champion bodyboarder Mike Stewart said. "We're being a squeaky wheel right now because we're trying to be heard so we can get a fair shake."

Harris said last night he was "displeased" with the process used by the parks department in dealing with the permit applications, but could not change the schedule because the normal rules for selection of eligible events were followed.

But after a meeting with Parks and Recreation Director William Balfour, Harris said he was going to shift the permitting process into the city's Office of Economic Development.

That office is expected to be more sensitive to the value of expanding sports tourism in Hawai'i, and less concerned with technical details of regulations.

The bodyboarders are concerned that permits will be granted to at least three surfing events at Pipeline: The Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters in December, the Backdoor Shootout in January and the Pipeline Pro in February.

"That would be discriminating against bodyboarding," Thomas said. "If the three surfing contests get their permits, it would give a surfer like Andy Irons three chances to surf in a contest at Pipe. Yet, our bodyboarders would not get even one chance."

Last year, those three surfing events and the two bodyboarding events were all granted permits. However, a group called Let's Surf Coalition raised concern in September that the city was not abiding by its rules for contests on O'ahu's North Shore.

Contests are not supposed to run more than four full days of competition during a maximum 16-day "holding period."

Also, and more important in this case, contests are not supposed to be held at the same beach within 10 days of each other.

In essence, five events at Pipeline can not be accommodated within those rules during the prime North Shore wave months of December through February.

Pipeline has some of the world's most challenging waves, and Thomas said it would be "an insult" if the bodyboarding contests are asked to switch sites or dates.