Dispute could cancel surf events
The World Surf League wants the city to shift the dates of the Pipe Masters
The World Surf League is threatening to leave Hawaii off its 2019 schedule of events if the city does not grant its request to change the date of one of its premier contests — pronto.
The Santa Monica, Calif.,-based WSL is seeking to move the Billabong Pipe Masters from its traditional December staging dates to a January period the organization was already seeking to reserve for a different event. The switch would take effect during the 2019 season, thus allowing for the 2018 Billabong event approved for Dec. 8-20 to go on as scheduled.
WSL Chief Executive Officer Sophie Goldschmidt, who described the switch as “an administrative technicality,” said Saturday that the full slate of WSL events in Hawaii could be canceled next year unless the issue is resolved within the next few days.
Goldschmidt arrived in Honolulu on Friday to try to persuade city officials to approve the change. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, however, took issue with what he sees as the organization’s attempt to “usurp” the permit-application process and strong-arm the city into acceding to its demands before it has even secured the dates it requested. “The WSL missed deadlines in the process and now they’re trying to take dates that others have applied for prior to the process being completed,” Caldwell said. “That’s not how we do business in Hawaii. That isn’t pono.”
Formerly the Association of Surfing Professionals, the WSL stages numerous surfing events in Hawaii, including the Championship Tour events, the Billabong Pipe Masters and Maui Women’s Pro; qualifying events including the Sunset Open, Volcom Pipe Pro, Turtle Bay Pro, HIC Pro, Hawaiian Pro and Vans World Cup; and various big-wave, junior, longboard and specialty meets. Goldschmidt said the WSL is in the process of streamlining its events calendar to allow for a better defined professional surf season. The organization applied to hold the Sunset Open in January 2019 but wants to use those dates instead for the Pipe Masters, moving the Sunset Open to the December 2019 holding period it originally requested for the other event.
“We’re not asking to add any windows or days,” Goldschmidt said. “It’s a very minimal administrative issue. From our perspective, it’s a no-brainer.”
She cited the organization’s long history of staging events in Hawaii and the direct economic benefits and promotional opportunities the state has received as a result of the ongoing relationship. According to Goldschmidt, the WSL spends an estimated $7 million to stage and promote events in Hawaii, and the events themselves generate about $20 million in economic impacts. Unlike certain other high-profile sporting events in Hawaii, such as golf contests administered by the PGA, the WSL does not receive funding from the state. “We love Hawaii and we’re very passionate in our belief that Hawaii is one of the most important surf locations in the world,” she said. “We’ve had a long-term commitment to coming here.”
That commitment could be in jeopardy, however. Goldschmidt, who succeeded Paul Speaker as the head of the WSL in July, said the organization had been in contact with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation regarding its application for event dates for more than a year and only last week was informed its request to switch dates for the two events might not be approved. “I’m concerned and I hope logic will prevail,” Goldschmidt said. “If we can’t get these minor administrative changes made, we won’t be able to come back in 2019, and if that happens the likelihood is that we won’t be able to return for years.” Caldwell said Goldschmidt’s account of the negotiations left out several key points.
The WSL submitted its request to switch the dates in mid-December, well after the November deadline to submit changes to permit requests, according to the mayor. Caldwell said he and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard received letters from the WSL on Jan. 28 asking them to intervene on its behalf. That was followed by attempts to lobby Honolulu City Council members to do the same, he said.
“Then (on Friday) she came to my office unannounced,” he said. “We met and we asked for more time to follow the process. I’m disappointed that when they didn’t get what they wanted they then went to the press to put pressure on us.” Caldwell said the permitting process exists to ensure that high demand for access to natural resources like North Shore surf spots, which generate world-class conditions for a brief window each winter, is managed in a fair and equitable way. The WSL’s demand to have the date swap approved this week improperly assumes it had already secured the dates in question, when no such decision has been made yet, he said. The city does not guarantee permits or give preference to returning events, Caldwell said.
“I don’t feel we’ve been treated fairly,” said Goldschmidt, who noted that no rationale had been given for the city’s reluctance to allow the changes.
If we can’t get these minor administrative changes made, we won’t be able to come back in 2019, and if that happens the likelihood is that we won’t be able to return for years.” Sophie Goldschmidt Chief executive officer, World Surf League ———
Mikey Wright tried to catch a barrel Saturday at the Volcom Pipe Pro event at the Banzai Pipeline off Ehukai Beach.