The city is considering setting limits for surfing contests at Oahu’s South Shore, where Olympian Duke Kahanamoku and his fellow Waikiki beachboys put the sport on the map.
The process, which could happen as early as this summer, would be similar to the one used in the late 1990s to set limits on North Shore contests. Those rule changes limited North Shore contests to 16 per site and required contests to begin at 8 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.
The idea was to keep local surfers from missing out on all the good waves at their favorite breaks. During surf contests, only the contestants are allowed to surf the break where the contest is being held.
Nathan Serota, spokesman for the city Parks and Recreation Department, said the department has received complaints about the frequency of South Shore surfing contests, which drew seven events, spanning a collective 28 days, to Waikiki in fiscal year 2019.
“The most common concerns are as follows: limited space on the beach for events, equipment takes up too much space, event organizers take up the beach during their event and displacing local surfers at a good break,” said Serota, who declined to provide the Honolulu Star-Advertiser with the number of South Shore contests from prior years.
While community feedback was used as guidance for changing the North Shore’s surfing contest rules, Serota said there are no rules in place for surfing contests in Waikiki. However, the Kapiolani Regional Park Event Coordinator does space out the surf events so they do not occur on back-to-back weekends, he said. And, there aren’t any holding periods, or set of days when the event could be held, depending on surf conditions. Waikiki events always take place on the scheduled day, Serota said.
“The city is considering amendments to the Shorewater Rules to potentially limit South Shore surf events. Those changes would need to go out for public hearing as part of the approval process, which could happen as early as summer 2020,” he said.
That discussion can’t happen soon enough for retired businessman Tim Garry, who lives in Waikiki and started leading the charge for South Shore contest limits about three years ago after getting kicked out of the ocean during setup for a past Duke’s OceanFest.
“They weren’t supposed to start the Red Bull event until 10:30 a.m. I paddled out about 8:45 a.m. and was told by security to get out of the water,” Garry said.
That event hit a nerve with Garry, who began circulating a petition urging the city to limit South Shore surfing events to 10 days per site per year. So far, Garry said, he has collected about 140 signatures.
While there are tons of breaks to explore on Oahu year-round, most of the attention gravitates to the North Shore breaks, known for their big waves, and the South Shore breaks, which are in or near Waikiki, which is the state’s top tourist destination and where Kahanamoku grew up.
The Queens surf break, which on the bigger south swells gets some of Oahu’s most “rippable” waves, is the most sought-after spot for South Shore surfing contests, said Garry, who has lived on Oahu since the 1970s.
Garry doesn’t blame South Shore surfing contest organizers for choosing Queens. But he said if limits were implemented, some contests could go to other popular South Shore breaks, including Ala Moana Bowls, Kaisers, Three’s, Canoes and Publics.
Garry said that he’s not set on a 10-day limit for the South Shore, but offers it as a conversation opener. He says the North Shore limits have brought balance to the region and thinks that the South Shore would benefit from similar consideration.
Jim Fulton, co-chairman of Duke’s OceanFest, said he’s met with Garry and is open to further discussion with the city.
“This year we adjusted our hours starting later in the morning and ending earlier to give the community a chance to surf those days,” Fulton said. “But it’s been brought to the community’s attention that some people think that we should look at how our parks are being used. We’re open to that.”
Brian Benton, secretary of Dive Oahu, which rents surfboards on Waikiki Beach, said the current level of Waikiki contests is fine and actually affects his businesses less than the Waikiki street closures or the unregulated peddling from those who rent surfboards and sell lessons. But Benton encourages organizers to work together and to combine as many surf contests as possible.
“I can deal with the impact of the contests that we currently have on the beach as a good neighbor,” Benton said. “Obviously, surfing is an extremely important part of Hawaii, and we want to make sure that the kids don’t suffer by limiting contests. By the same token, we need to be mindful that the space needs to be shared.”
Wendell Aoki, president of the Hawaii Surfing Association and contest director, estimates that the number of South Shore surfing contests is about right, but said he supports further discussion since on occasion Waikiki might get too many contests.
“Maybe they could just drop a few that are a one-time deal or pay attention to the number of events per month. Two per month with a two-week waiting period should be fine,” Aoki said.
But the city shouldn’t make any changes until all stakeholders have had an opportunity to provide feedback, he said.
“If they make changes, there has to be discussion. Don’t just ramrod it down our throats,” Aoki added.
Randy Rarick, former director of the Triple Crown of Surfing, said North Shore limits have protected people’s enjoyment of the surf and allowed more people to train.
”There are only so many great surfing days,” he said. “People on the North Shore seem fairly happy. There’s enough free time in between events to enjoy what the North Shore has to offer.”
Rarick agrees with Garry’s quest for balance but suggests limiting South Shore events to 24 days and using a weighted system to issue permits.
“There’s way too many surfing contests at Queens, and some of them are somewhat irrelevant. They are great for the people who participate, but they aren’t bringing anything to the table,” Rarick said. “Some events don’t need quality surf and could go to secondary surfing spots.”
Champion surfer Fred Hemmings, who along with Rarick co-founded the the first pro surfing circuit, International Professional Surfers, said he also favors setting reasonable limits that are part of a weighted system.
“Of course, there should be a reasonable limit on the number of contests that can be held anywhere on the islands,” said Hemmings, who accompanied Kahanamoku on surfing promotions as a young man.
Hemmings said that limit should be prioritized with a good rating system that allows the “contests that are the best for the economy and the promotion of Hawaii and the amateur and pro surfers to take precedence.”