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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 5, 2007

Cunningham reigns at Pipeline

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Retired North Shore lifeguard Mark Cunningham said competing during the morning heats helped him win the bodysurfing contest.

BERNIE BAKER | Special to The Advertiser

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Mark Cunningham

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Mark Cunningham might be retired from working as a North Shore lifeguard, but he's hardly done as a North Shore bodysurfer.

He proved that yesterday by winning the Ke Kaha Nalu Hanana 'O Ehukai bodysurfing contest at the Banzai Pipeline.

"I thank my lucky stars every day that I am still able to play in the surf and bodysurf at Pipeline like this," said Cunningham, 51. "You don't go into a contest like this hoping to win. It's more of an opportunity to get out there and have fun bodysurfing with only a few other guys with you."

The bodysurfers were treated to a rare April swell, as the famous waves at Pipeline were forming 4- to 8-foot barrels.

"We scored," Cunningham said. "This is as good as it gets for this time of year."

The contest was sponsored by Quiksilver and organized by the North Shore Lifeguard Association. Around half of the 50 or so competitors were active or former North Shore lifeguards.

Rick Williams, a lifeguard at Ehukai Beach, said the contest offered a rare opportunity for bodysurfers to ride the Pipeline waves by themselves. Normally, surfers and bodyboarders dominate the action.

"The bodysurfers are sort of like the bottom-feeders when it comes to Pipe we get the scraps," Williams said. "So when we get the place to ourselves, everybody's stoked."

The contest also followed a unique format in that there were no eliminations. Each bodysurfer got to surf in two heats yesterday.

"This contest is more relaxed," Cunningham said. "Everybody gets an equal shot. It's more like a social event."

Williams said the Hawaiian title of the contest translates to "a gathering of bodysurfers at Ehukai."

It was also the only chance for the bodysurfers to compete at Pipeline this year. In past years, another contest was staged at Pipeline in January, but that one had to be canceled this year due to a permit issue.

"We look forward to those two days a year we get at Pipeline, but this year there was only one, so it makes it a little more meaningful," Cunningham said.

Cunningham received a total score of 102 (out of 120) in his two heats. He said it helped his cause to compete in the morning heats, when the winds were not as strong as the afternoon.

North Shore lifeguard Abe Lerner placed second, one point behind Cunningham. Todd Sells was third, Steven Hong fourth, and Gavin Kennelly fifth.

Several professional surfers entered the contest, including big-wave surfers Brock Little, Mark Healey and David Wassell.

"I think that shows how well-rounded you have to be," Williams said. "There's no cutting corners in a bodysurfing contest. You have to swim in and swim out with every wave. It's not that easy, especially here."

The Kaua'i tandem of Gavin Kennelly and David Hubbard won the rescue race.

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.