Winter on the North Shore of Oahu means only one thing: monster waves. There’s good surf in Hawaii year round – the Islands are the birthplace of modern-day surfing, after all – but waves swell to 10 feet or more each winter, giving rise to intense surf competitions that draw athletes from across the globe vying to be made champion.
There’s no better place to watch these skilled watermen and women take on Mother Nature’s awe-inspiring breaks than during the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
Surfer John John Florence tears it up at last year's Billabong Pipe Masters — Photo courtesy of WSL/Kirstin
In its 33rd year, the Vans Triple Crown comprises three contest jewels along Oahu’s famed North Shore swells, the Hawaiian Pro, Vans World Cup of Surfing and Billabong Pipe Masters. The three competitions draw hundreds of visitors and kamaaina (Hawaii residents) to witness approximately 170 of the world’s best surfers compete for champion of the waves.
Here’s how to make the most of your trip north and get the ultimate Vans Triple Crown contest experience.
Each contest in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is free and runs on the four days during which there’s the best and biggest surf. Competition days start at 8 am and end at 4 pm.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the North Shore – winter may mean big waves, but it also means heavy traffic. Parking for each contest is first come, first served.
First up is the Hawaiian Pro at Alii Beach in Haleiwa. The contest kicks off on November 12 and features 128 surfers. It’s a great spectator beach with plenty of space; Haleiwa Harbor is to the left and a large grassy field is on the right. Stick around 'til dusk and you’ll be rewarded with a stellar sunset.
The next Triple Crown event is the Vans World Cup of Surfing, held at Sunset Beach beginning on November 24 (the contest won’t run on Thanksgiving Day). Sunset is an expansive beach, which means widespread waves for the contest’s 128 surfers. Trees provide some sun relief, but the best viewing spots are in the open sand. Binoculars are recommended for the best view of surfers.
Crowds of people line the beach to watch the world's best surfers during last year's Billabong Pipe Masters — Photo courtesy of WSL/Kirstin
The final, and perhaps most exciting, is the Billabong Pipe Masters which begins on December 8. The action is big and up close. Pipe Masters is held at Ehukai Beach Park and gets its name from the famous Pipeline break, known for its trademark barrel waves just 10 yards from the shore.
The first day of the contest starts with the Pipe Invitational, featuring 32 of Hawaii’s best Pipe surfers. During the rest of the competition, 36 surfers compete. In the culmination event of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, three surfers are made champion. Similar to Sunset Beach, trees provide shade, but find a spot on the sand to get a better view of the action.
You may not become the next Kelly Slater or John John Florence during your vacation – even with a solid surf lesson – but a day watching the world’s best surfers compete during the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing will surely make you appreciate the sport, and the incredible waves these talents tame.