Op Pro 2006
Kicking off the Triple Crown at Ali'i beach Park is always like that perfect wine which sets the mood. Haleiwa is such a family beach and any competitor or observer who sets foot there has to gain a new understanding and respect for Hawaiian style and the Hawaiian pace in which we live here.
The OP Pro was introduced into this years Triple Crown with the celebration of Haleiwa's Makahiki festival. The event which complemented the contest included a mix of live music, local arts and crafts, films and local kine grindz. Hula dancers opened for a mix of local bands including Natural Vibrations, Tony Kanai of No Doubt and even a performance by Jack Johnson. There was a special section for the kids at the festival which included rides and lots of fun activities.
Unfortunately the waves were not keeping up with all the excitement. . Matter of fact, they were calling it the smallest waves ever run in the history of the Triple Crown of Surfing. The tiny waves were destructive for most Hawaiian surfers who thrive on the power here on the northshore. Surfers had to decide whether to ride shorter snappier rights or longer lefts. The lefts were typically the highest scoring rides throughout most the competition, but if you know Haleiwa, you know that 50% of those lefts are slow barely moving waves and the other 50% are okay if you can find your way through those slow moving sections while still racking up a few points.
The women were first up at the OP Pro in small waves; about a foot. This was the first time in several years that this event had resumed its status as a 6* WQS instead of a WCT for the women. This was exciting for the strong pool of local talent that is brewing here in Hawaii, however somewhat of a false hope to surfers who didn't have accumulated tour points. Most WQS events around the world hold up to round of 100, but at Haleiwa there is only enough time on the city and county permit for the women to start at round 44. Hawaii's young hopefuls CoCo Ho, Bethany Hamilton, Carissa Moore, Malia Manuel and Alana Blanchard were lucky enough to snatch a seat in the event along with WQS rated Hawaiians such as Lani Hunter, Leilani Gryde and Melanie Bartels. Bartels, Moore and Manuel made it to the quarterfinals with tour veteran Rochelle Ballard, but all were defeated by the Australian and Brazilian girls who then dominated the semis and finals with the exception of Sophia Mulanovich from Peru who won the event. Bartels requalified for the WCT that day along with Amee Donahoe from Australia. The first day competitors had to wait until noon to see if there would be enough of a rise in surf to get underway and the second day had to be postponed from 7-9am due to a tsunami watch issued from an 8.1 earthquake off Japan. Those who were there at the event got to observe the 2 ft tsunami serge at Haleiwa Beach Park around 8am and another one shortly after, but people who were near the boat harbor witnessed the full effect of it when the water receded out from underneath the boats and then came back in. The competition resumed in the small 1 ft conditions with an occasional 2 foot set and the girls were said to have been making it look good. Upcoming surfers Stephanie Gilmore from Australia who placed second and Tais Almeida from Brazil who placed 3rd made a strong impact amongst the worlds best.
Though I could almost hear the women grumbling about how they always get the less favorable surf conditions, they would have got a chuckle to see what the mens trials got underway in.. Yes, I think we would have called it flat- 1ft here in Hawaii. Matter of fact the 2-4 ft north swell which was filtering in even provoked contest directors to allow contestants to ride the small bump at Avalanche instead of Haleiwa if they so desired. Power surfer Johnny Boy Gomes was one of the contestants in early heats who took advantage of this option and advanced. The surf continued dropping and they had to cancel the contest for the second half of the first day. The second day of competition the surf rose 1/2 a foot so contestants were forced to stay at Haleiwa making it tough for many local surfers.Young Mason Ho however made a strong showing managed to get through a few rounds. By the third day of competition the surf had risen to about 6-8 feet in the afternoon, but that was at Lanis. Haleiwa was better than previous days, but still just a jumbled up 2-3 ft which as bad as it was, made for much more contestable surf. Defending champion Pancho Sullivan and veteran Sunny Garcia were eliminated that day along with other strong surfers such as Sean Moody, Makua Rothman and Flynn Novak.
On the fourth day the 6 hour swell from the former afternoon was already on the decline, but again kept surf in the 2-3 ft range with poor conditions. The semi final heats were definitely the moment of the day when Hawaiian surfer Joel Centeio knocked out Mick Fanning and fellow Hawaiian Fred Patacchia who had some high scoring turns, but not long enough rides to advance. After thanking everyone on the beach for their support Centeio became by far the crowd favorite and they cheered with his every wave. He managed to pull in a third place in the final proving that Hawaiians can hang with the best in the small mushy surf. There were some strong exchanges in both semi final heats which had everyone on their toes. Joel Parkinson may have made it out of his semi final had he not suffered an interference call which left an open door for underdog Mikael Picon from France who eventually finished fourth in the competition. Luke Steadman who also surfed strong throughout the contest, could not find a high scoring wave to get him out of the semi final.
After a quick word from Ben Aipa, Irons when out and got 2 solid waves right off the bat in the final heeding Ben's advice that the surf was subsiding. The slow monotonous final did just that; it lulled out through most of the time giving Irons the lead all the way through to the end which noone could really even get close to because of the lack of high scoring waves in the throughout the second half of the heat. 2nd place went to a well deserved effort fromTaj Burrow of Australia. Looks like Irons. Burrow and Fanning will go head to head in the final finish for the WCT along with a fight for the Triple Crown which will all ends at Pipeline on Dec 18th.