Dispute over permitting may jeopardize WSL tour in Hawaii

Dispute over permitting may jeopardize WSL tour in Hawaii
Published: Feb. 5, 2018 at 9:41 AM HST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2018 at 6:22 AM HST
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NORTH SHORE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A dispute over permitting may jeopardize whether the World Surf League continues to hold championship tour competitions in Hawaii.

The news comes just one day after Honolulu native Josh Moniz won the Volcom Pipe Pro on the North Shore. The 21-year-old joins the ranks of two-time World Champion John John Florence as one of the few Hawaii-born surfers to take home that title, which is an important qualifier for the championship tour.

It's also a significant competition for local surfers. The Volcom Pipe Pro has been held nine times with only five winners — and three of them are from Hawaii. However, local surfers may soon have fewer opportunities to compete at their home breaks if WSL and the City and County of Honolulu can't reach an agreement about the 2019 tour schedule.

To clarify, at this time, this would only impact the World Surf League's championship tour competitions on the North Shore, not all contests the organization holds in Hawaii.

At stake is the Billabong Pipe Masters, which WSL officials want to move from from its traditional window in December to a January waiting period instead, which the World Surf League had already applied to reserve a permit for with a different event, the Sunset Open. Instead, these two contests would essentially swap places on the schedule. WSL officials say this would involve no increase in competition length or the dates in which the contest is held.

WSL also wants to move the Maui Women's Pro to the North Shore and run it in conjunction with the Men's Vans World Cup at Sunset Beach, which the World Surf League has also already applied for a permit for a waiting period at the end of November. In order to accomplish this, WSL officials are asking to extend the competition window by one day from four to five.

WSL officials say they formally filed their applications with the city in mid-December, outlining their wishes to make what they describe as minor changes to their North Shore lineup, which they say are mainly administrative.

According to CEO Sophie Goldschmidt, the WSL has been in contact with the city's Department of Parks and Recreation regarding its permit applications for more than a year but only last week was informed its request to switch dates for the two events might not be approved.

"We've been keeping them up to date in the process. Our calendar has evolved over the last few months, but we first raised this almost a year ago so none of this should come as a surprise. We're hopeful that we can find a solution and that we can continue to bring the best events to Hawaii, where they deserve to be," said Goldschmidt.

Goldschmidt flew to Honolulu on Friday in hopes to discuss the issue with Mayor Kirk Caldwell but instead met with Ernie Martin, councilmember for the North Shore district, and Ann Kobayashi, the chair of the Parks and Recreation committee.

She says WSL has two weeks at most to resolve this dispute before they need to begin the process of moving the event somewhere else.

According to Mayor Caldwell's spokesperson, WSL officials showed up at his office unannounced after missing a Nov. 9 deadline to amend their permit applications.

Andrew Pereira says the mayor believes the WSL trying to strong-arm the city into meeting its demands before it has even secured the necessary permits, but that the city is "sticking to the rules."

Pereira says the city has to be fair to the community as a whole, which suffers the impacts of increased traffic through their North Shore neighborhoods as a result of surfing competitions. He also maintained the city does not guarantee permits or give preference to returning events.

Mayor Caldwell sent a statement later Monday afternoon saying WSL implied they may not return to Oahu in the next three years if their request is not granted.

"The city's decision regarding this matter is about fairness, not money. If the changes WSL is requesting are indeed minor as the company claims, than the drastic action that is being threatened should not be taken. The city appreciates the contributions of WSL and hopes it will not jeopardize the relationship based with Hawaii based on what it says are minor changes," Caldwell said in a statement.

WSL officials beg to differ — citing the 47 consecutive years they've held the Pipe Master on the North Shore, which they describe as one of the longest running and most iconic events Hawaii has offered the world. They also point to the estimated $7 million a year WSL pays to stage and promote events in Hawaii, and says the events themselves generate about $20 million in economic impacts.

Hawaii native Sunny Garcia, the 2000 WSL Champion and six-time Triple Crown of Surfing winner, says he's baffled by the city's response.

"Personally I don't think it's a beef between the WSL and Honolulu City officials. I think it has more to do with us surfers because the people that stand to lose the most are surfers from Hawaii. Along with the tourism and businesses on the North Shore that enjoy participating in the contests and enjoy the people that come to watch the contest. This is a no-brainer for the mayor and city officials to do. We have an association that brings in so much money and so much opportunities for Hawaiian kids that I'm baffled that the mayor isn't helping us at all," said Garcia, who went door to door at city hall Friday seeking assistance from officials.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard says she hopes a resolution will be reached soon.

"If the minor changes to these permits are not authorized, Hawaii will be completely left out of the world's most elite competitive surf tour this year, and historic events that have been held in Hawaii for decades, such as the Pipe Masters, will be canceled," said Gabbard, D-Hawaii. "As the home of surfing, Hawaii's hosting of two major World Championship Tour competitions is not only a critical source of investment in our communities, but also a source of pride to our Aloha State."

Other surf contest organizers agree with the City's hard stance.

"The city and county, the state, have rules and regulations. Nobody should be pushing anybody, telling them, 'If I don't get it (permits) in these two weeks I'm pulling out.' You wanna pull out, pull out. There's somebody around that would like to have your spot. It's as simple as that," said Earl Dahlin, who organizes the Haleiwa International Open.

City officials say they will continue their dialogue with the WSL organization, and that no final decisions have been made.

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