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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 22, 2002

Taking back the big waves

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

PUPUKEA — If there was any doubt about the intensity of community interest on the North Shore over the rules governing surfing contests, it was dispelled at a meeting Wednesday night.

More than six dozen people representing various surfing factions — and one documentary film crew — converged at the Pupukea Recreational Center to discuss potential rule changes regarding area surfing contests and the move of the surf meet permitting process from the Parks and Recreation Department to the Office of Economic Development.

By the end of a meeting that was pointed and not entirely civil, little of substance had been accomplished, but community residents at least felt that they had had their say and the city's representative left with perhaps a better understanding of how deep the feelings about surfing run in the heart of the world-famous big wave mecca.

This season has seen conflict peak on the North Shore between recreational and competitive surfers over the number of surfing contests. The conflict has been aggravated by the city's failure to issue a schedule of surf meets for a season that was already well under way. The schedule typically is issued much earlier in the year, and as of midday yesterday, it still was not out.

Against that backdrop, the Sunset Beach Community Association held Wednesday's meeting at an oceanside location at Pupukea Beach Park, where the sound of crashing waves at times drowned out the speakers.

"Apparently, new rules are being proposed that will impact the neighborhood property owners, beach users, tourists, area businesses and contest promoters," said Charles Shipman Jr., association president.

Suggestions for rules criteria were offered, but the only thing people seemed to agree on was that the city had not done a good job of enforcing the rules it already has in place, something that city officials have acknowledged but promised to correct this year. Suggestions included more advance notice of contest schedules, better enforcement of rules and higher priority given to local surfers in contests.

While the meeting remained civil for the most part, there were notable exceptions — particularly when professional surfer Sunny Garcia insulted revered surfing figure and big wave pioneer Peter Cole.

Cole had made the point that the rules established in 1991 governing contests are fine and that it was only when the city began issuing too many contest permits that matters got out of hand. Cole said that when the city obeyed its own guidelines there were no problems.

At that point Garcia said the rules had been the problem because they weren't fair and placed too many restrictions on professional surfers.

"I was involved in making those 1991 rules," said Cole. "So I'll take responsibility for them."

Garcia then called Cole a derogatory name, causing many in the audience to gasp and groan their disapproval.

"Let's show a little more aloha, Sunny," Shipman said.

City representative Barry Fukunaga, director of the Department of Enterprise Services, said the city wanted to gather input from the community and will hold a similar meeting within two weeks after Thanksgiving.

Randy Rarick, executive producer of the Van's Triple Crown of Surfing, which began last week, characterized Wednesday's meeting as the beginning of a long and necessary process.

"The city and county has got to make the rules better and clean up the process," Rarick said. "I hope that both the recreational and pro surfers appreciate the uniqueness of the North Shore, which is unlike anything else in the world."

Gil Riviere, who heads the Let's Surf Coalition, has said in the past that competitive surf meets have increasingly squeezed out recreational surfers. But Wednesday night he said he and Rarick aren't far apart on what they want.

"We're working toward the same end: to find a balance," said Riviere. "The coalition is not trying to end contests. We realize that some contests are probably a good thing. But there comes a point when people should be able to use their beaches.

"I'm very optimistic that the outcome of this will be positive."

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8038.