HONOLULU — Hawaii’s biggest surfing competition of the year has started amid ongoing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus among fans eager to watch the action.
The 2020 Billabong Pipe Masters began Tuesday on Oahu’s North Shore and is scheduled to run through Dec. 20, with crowds watching surfers ride waves reaching up to 30 feet (9.1 meters) high, Hawaii Public Radio reported.
Hundreds of spectators were in attendance at Ehukai Beach Park on the first day, with few wearing masks and limited social distancing.
The World Surf League, which organizes the annual event, has changed the event’s format in an attempt to reduce the large crowds associated with pro-surfing contests.
The organization is trying to minimize the number of people who watch in person by eliminating announcers and other public attractions that are normally staples of surfing events, said Michele Nekota of the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation, which issues permits for the competitions.
“They are basically advertising as a virtual event, so we’re having competitors, but not spectators,” Nekota said.
The World Surf League did not respond to a request for comment.
Mailers were sent to North Shore households urging residents to stream the event live from home.
Film production was declared an essential business in June under Honolulu’s tiered reopening plan, allowing the league to obtain a permit to operate the event as a film site.
The league also received approval to close the section of beach fronting the competition area.
“The main viewing area has been restricted to minimize how many people can actually gather,” Walea Constantinau of the Honolulu Film Office said.
The city and the surf league believe closing the competition portion of the beach will reduce attendance and allow police and event security to enforce social distancing, Constantiau said.
“I think it gives us the opportunity to focus people in others areas of the beach that are more manageable and enforceable by security,” Constantiau said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.