Hawai‘i surfers’ futures in jeopardy for World Tour

HALE‘IWA, O‘ahu — As the 2008 season winds to a close, Hawai‘i and Brazil stand to incur the heaviest cuts this season. The 2008 Association of Surfing Professionals’ World Tour featured five Hawai‘i surfers, but those numbers could dwindle dramatically for 2009.

Former world champion Andy Irons’ competitive plans for the future are unclear, although he looks safe to re-qualify based on his ratings points. His brother Bruce Irons plans to opt out of the tour at the end of the year.

Pancho Sullivan is failing to re-qualify, and Roy Powers hovers dangerously close to the cut-off point of 25 on the World Tour rankings (he’s currently rated 24th). Fred Patacchia may be the lone Hawai‘i survivor, currently ranked 15th.

Looking at the springboard World Qualifying Series, there is no fresh Hawai‘i talent qualifying to date, leaving hopefuls Kekoa Bacalso and Dustin Barca as only outside chances.

Both of these surfers will need to make a semifinal at either the Reef Hawaiian Pro or the O’Neill World Cup in order to jump up the ratings and qualify.

Brazil boasted six World Tour surfers this year — third-highest behind Australia (17) and USA (9). They now look like halving that representation with only one World Tour surfer currently requalifying: Adriano de Souza, who is presently ranked an impressive fifth in the world. On the WQS, only two Brazilians are currently qualifying: Hizunome Bettero and Simao Romao.

For World Tour surfers the final test is always the hardest, coming in the form of the Billabong Pipeline Masters. Nothing can be more intense than knowing you need to step up and perform at the world’s deadliest, most storied wave in order to keep your career alive. Add to that the controversial format that throws 16 local Pipeline specialists against the world’s top 48 at the most critical point of the year.

These 16 Pipeline locals have been notorious for upsets over the past two years of this format and Pipeline remains one break where Hawai‘i surfers continue to shine.

When the 2008 Hawaiian winter draws to a finish, the final award is that of the prestigious Vans Triple Crown title, which carries a $10,000 bonus. In 25 years it has been won by a short-list of just 11 surfers, all of whom are from either Hawai‘i, Australia or Mainland USA.

Kelly Slater is the only Mainland American to ever claim the title, and while he has amassed an incredible nine world titles prior to touching down in Hawai‘i this winter, he has only secured two Triple Crown titles.

The Vans Triple Crown still stands as the ultimate testing ground.

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