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Kelly Slater, 2014 Pipe Masters. Come 2019, there's a good chance Hawaii's dropped from the WSL schedule.

Kelly Slater, 2014 Pipe Masters. Come 2019, there’s a good chance Hawaii’s dropped from the WSL schedule. Photo: ASP/Cestari

The Inertia

It looks as though Hawaii isn’t going to be on the schedule for the 2018-2019 WSL schedule. If you, like me, have been following the lover’s quarrel between Hawaii and the League, you are aware of what’s happening. If you are not, permit me to fill you in with a few Cliffs Notes.

In short, it sounds as though someone at the WSL blew it big time. Each year, anyone who wants to run a surf contest on the North Shore needs to apply by a certain date. This year, due to scheduling conflicts, applicants were granted a three-week extension to send in their revised applications. And guess who didn’t send one in? That’s right, the World Surf League.

Because of the changes the WSL planned on making to the schedule after the end of the 2018 season, they’d need to run events at Pipeline nearly back-to-back. As it has been for a long time, the professional surfing season ends at Pipeline, but with the 2019 schedule, it was going to begin there. That meant a December 2018 Pipe Masters followed almost immediately by a February 2019 Pipeline event to kick off the new year. That crossover, however, is where things got a little sticky.

One can see where an error might have been made—permits aren’t granted annually, but seasonally. That meant that the League needed to file for two individual permits. Once they realized what happened, they quickly tried to throw a bit of muscle (and in the professional surfing world, they have almost all the muscles) and turn things around.


Sophie Goldschmidt, the newly minted World Surf League CEO, sent a letter to Honolulu Mayor Caldwell dated January 31. “I am respectfully writing you,” she wrote, “since we have been notified by the Department of Parks and Recreation, City & County of Honolulu that we will not be granted the minor 2018/2019 winter event permit variances that we have applied for in order to achieve a global revamp of our World Championship Tour in 2019.”

According to Goldschmidt’s letter, the WSL “directly invests more than $7 million in Hawaii…” She claimed that their November and December events bring in more than $20 million of economic spending to Hawaii.

“Before proceeding with our February global announcement of the new 2019 Championship Tour Schedule—devoid of any Hawaii events—we are reaching out in one final attempt to keep Hawaii’s ultimate position in the sport of surfing in tact [sic].”


Mayor Caldwell responded quickly and decisively a few days later, on February 6th. “I understand that you are new to the World Surf League,” he explained, “but the organization has been doing business in Hawaii for decades, and your local representatives are knowledgeable and experienced in honoring the competitive process. As you know, the high quality of surf in Hawaii during the winter season is the reason we have so many organizations applying for the same beaches at the same time period. As such, we have a process in order to make a selection that is fair and systematic, and to ensure that everyone is treated equally. I reviewed the variances you are requesting and I am unable to accommodate the WSL for the following reasons.”

He then went on to explain that he doesn’t have the authority to grant variances during the competitive process and that “it is the applicant’s responsibility to be aware of the deadlines and make whatever changes are needed.”

Soon after, Goldschmidt flew to Hawaii to attempt to sort things out in person. When that didn’t work, she made what seems to be a thinly veiled threat in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I’m concerned and I hope logic will prevail,” she 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.”

Although as of this publication no official announcement has been made, it seems as though it’s a done deal. Mayor Caldwell was tied up in meetings all day and wasn’t available for comment, and the WSL was silent when asked for their thoughts on the matter and what venues they might replace Hawaii with. They did, however, send a press release out. “The WSL acknowledges the City of Honolulu’s decision, but we remain very disappointed by it,” it said. “Our intention behind these proposed permitting changes is to improve competitive surfing globally, inclusive of the Hawaii surf community and its surfers. The WSL is a surfer-focused organization and our commitment to surfers of all levels, as well as our fans and the local communities around the world we partner with, is central to our mission. We have plans to continue to work with the Mayor’s Office on the status of our permits, but we must also explore all possible options for our schedule moving forward. We will share more information as soon as we’re able to.”

One thing is for certain, though: when it comes to the fans and the surfers alike, Hawaii will leave a very big hole to be filled.





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