Well-traveled Hawai'i contingent glad to be home
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
After surfing in small waves around the world all year long, some of Hawai'i's top up-and-coming surfers want to take advantage of a rare opportunity to compete in Hawai'i's famous waves.
Surfers like Jason Shibata of Pearl City, Dustin Cuizon of 'Ewa Beach and Sean Moody of O'ahu's North Shore are regulars on the World Qualifying Series, which is surfing's equivalent of a minor league system.
For them, the goal is to change two letters: QS to CT.
QS is short for the World Qualifying Series. CT is short for the World Championship Tour.
"I'm not going to lie, there's a big difference between being called a CT surfer and a QS surfer," Kaua'i surfer Roy Powers said. "There's not many six-figure (annual salary) guys on the QS. But on the CT, a lot of guys are making six figures."
Powers should know. In 2005, he was a QS surfer. In 2006, he made it to the WCT.
"Your life changes when you make it to the CT," Powers said. "You sign bigger endorsement deals, you make better prize money, you surf better waves. It's just a big step up. I've been able to buy a house and I have two cars now because I made it to the CT."
The problem is, very few surfers get to participate on the WCT.
More than 1,000 surfers compete in WQS contests, including around 100 from Hawai'i. In contrast, only 45 get to compete on the WCT, including five from Hawai'i.
The O'Neill World Cup of Surfing, which is scheduled to begin its holding period today at Sunset Beach, is the final event of the 2006 WQS.
"These are our home waves, and these are contests that you can actually look forward to surfing some real waves," Moody said. "It's just too bad we have to wait until the end of the year for it."
In truth, well-paid WCT surfers like Andy Irons and Bruce Irons of Kaua'i, and Fred Patacchia Jr. from O'ahu's North Shore are the exception.
Underpaid, over-traveled WQS surfers like Shibata, Cuizon and Moody are the norm in the sport.
"It's worth it to chase the dream because you know what's waiting on the CT," Shibata said. "But the QS is a long haul, and it's so hard to work your way up the ranks. It's worth it, but is it affordable? That's the question."
The talent level of the Hawai'i surfers is unquestioned, but they are still at somewhat of a disadvantage on the WQS.
In 2006, there were 41 contests on the WQS. Only four were staged in Hawai'i, including the recently completed Op Pro Hawai'i and the upcoming O'Neill World Cup of Surfing.
"It's hard because you have to leave these great waves in Hawai'i to surf in small waves in other places," Moody said. "If you're good enough, you're going to make it. No excuses. But I really believe it's harder for the Hawai'i guys because we're so used to surfing in quality waves and you just don't see that in other places."
As Shibata put it: "Waves that we wouldn't even think about surfing (in Hawai'i), all of a sudden that's your job. It's a hard thing to adjust to."
There is also the financial drain of traveling.
Shibata estimates that he spends $35,000 to $40,000 per year in travel costs.
"We're isolated in Hawai'i, so it costs us that much more to get to these places," he said. "If we could get more contests in Hawai'i, that would be huge."
Moody said he made three separate trips to Brazil this year because that's where the highest-rated WQS contests were.
"You have to go where the points are," he said. "But it's ridiculous that we had to go to Brazil three times. That means the Brazilians got to stay home for all that time."
It doesn't help that many of the international surfers are skilled in the small waves.
"There's so many good guys around the world now," Cuizon said. "You basically have to get lucky if you want to win a contest."
Most WQS surfers make an average salary of between $50,000 and $75,000 per year, so there is not much left after taking out the travel costs.
To help cut costs, many of the Hawai'i surfers on the WQS try to travel together.
Most times, that's a good thing. But there have been a few mishaps.
"We actually got stranded on the side of the road in France one time because we put the wrong gas in the car," Shibata said. "Another time, our boards flew off the car and by the time we turned around to look for it, it was gone."
Cuizon has an outside shot at qualifying for the 2007 WCT if he fares well in the Sunset Beach contest. Moody and Shibata will have to do the WQS again in 2007.
"Every country that you learn about in school, what you learn in world history, I can relate to that now because I've been to those places," Shibata said. "I have so many friends who would give up their jobs for mine. Even though we're not making that much money, we're still getting paid to surf around the world. That's a pretty good job to me."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.