With HIC Pro on tap, North Shore taking center stage at year’s end

Winter is coming.

(I really hope that’s not trademarked.)

Oahu’s winter surf spectacle kicks off every year with the HIC Pro at Sunset Beach. As the official Triple Crown qualifier, it’s a chance for all of Hawaii’s talent to show off and show out for a spot in both the World Cup of Surfing and the Hawaiian Pro.

Two years ago, Kauai’s Danny Fuller pulled off the feat with his first QS victory in a diverse career. This year, Kauai’s top seeds include Kaimana Jaquias, Koa Smith and Chris Foster. Jaquias has taken a lighter QS schedule this season than previous campaigns, but he still gets to begin in the Round of 64, bypassing the first two rounds of competition. Smith also receives the double bye, but he’ll have to contend with defending HIC Pro champ Ian Walsh in his first four-man heat.

Other top seeds from Hawaiian islands will include Mason Ho, Tanner Hendrickson, Billy Kemper, Joel Centeio, Jamie O’Brien and the Hawaii region’s top-ranked Eli Olson. Avoiding those first two rounds is a nice reward for their regional rankings or previous performances.

An even bigger Kauai crew will open in round two, headlined by Bruce Irons. As usual, it always feels just a little more special when Bruce is in the lineup for a Hawaiian contest. He thrilled us to start the year at the Volcom Pipe Pro, reaching an amazing final heat with Kelly Slater, O’Brien and Makai McNamara. Another deep run to start this Triple Crown season would be a welcome sight.

Evan Valiere reached the final heat at the HIC Pro three years ago. Valiere spends much of the year on Kauai or off scoping some of the world’s best surf spots, but the North Shore season has brought out some of his best work.

The same can be said for Gavin Gillette, who reached that same final with Valiere and followed that with a nice World Cup run in 2013.

Gillette, Valiere, Irons, Alex Smith and Dylan Goodale are all set to rep Kauai in round two. Sunny Garcia, Ian Gentil, Makuakai Rothman and Myles Padaca are just a few of the many Hawaii surfers also leap frogging first-round action.

For Olson, he has a regional title to win. He’s picked up the top ranking with a victory at the Local Motion Surf into Summer Pro and a quarterfinal finish at the Papara Pro Open Tahiti. But it’s certainly not sewn up quite yet, with Kemper and McNamara right on his heels. Finishing with the top ranking gets one surfer into the first two Triple Crown legs and also sets them up nicely for next year’s entire QS slate.

So while it’s always a great gathering and opportunity for Hawaii’s best to assemble and show the rest of the world what they can do, there are real stakes at the HIC Pro. The waiting period’s first three days haven’t been worthy of a call, but things are supposed to pick up at Sunset Beach over the next few days. Surfline’s model shows today as similar to Saturday, so another lay day may be in store. But things are expected to really kick up late Tuesday into the middle of the week. Will it be clean enough to go? Only time will tell.

But the year-long wait for Hawaii’s surf season is almost complete. There’s no world title drama to overshadow the North Shore, which now feels like its very own feature performance.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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