Nathan Florence and inside Oahu's crown jewel. Photo by Brian Bielmann
The Battle For Pipeline: The WSL Lobbies For Oahu Rule Changes While Others Fight For The Scraps
The continuing fight for the North Shore's prized possession.
Surf contests on the North Shore of Oahu continue to be a sticky issue for the City & County of Honolulu. Yearly competition for the scarce number of days alotted for events is fierce, without fail, and in an effort to curb litigiousness and satisfy stakeholders a number of rule changes have been proposed. While some are minor, others have vast implications for community control of a shared resource.
Among the minor changes are those that would require an event to pump out portable toilets and restrooms post event, as well as those that change the due date for applications in order to facilitate granting applications earlier. In addition, the City & County wants the ability to cancel events due to severe shore water erosion, a potential problem at many contest sites, none more so than Sunset. These revisions seem to reflect nothing more than a needed tightening of rules due to difficulties which were not seen, or realized, until recently.
Other changes, that would make the applications take place on a triennial basis, replace the current system of appeals with an advisory committee, extend the amount of hours a contest can run (with the permission of the Director of Parks and Recreation), and allow the Director of Parks and Recreation broad leeway when granting variances to the new guidelines, are major. They are the result of the yearly hassle faced by the City & County when granting permits, as well as lobbying efforts from the World Surf League, which is looking for more control over venues in order to facilitate long-term sponsorships.
It's all about Pipeline, really. No other site is such a constant source of drama and acrimony among invested parties. No other wave in the world provides the dream combination of access, infrastructure, audience, and proximity. Where the vast majority of powerful reef waves unload far offshore, Pipeline puts you front and center. Spectators can literally feel the power of the wave from the beach. A belly deep rumble that raises hairs and sends adrenaline coursing through veins. Hoots and screams can be heard on the beach, from the lineup. Visitors and locals alike can enjoy watching brave souls challenge stand up barrels over shallow reef from a nearly literal stone's throw away.
It's no wonder everyone wants a piece of it. It's no surprise they're willing to fight for it. Regulations only allow for a total of 64 competition days on the entirety of the North Shore during a winter season. Of those days no more than 16 can be run at Pipeline due to other factors considered when scheduling events; such as a mandatory 10 day "cool-off period" at each event site, and the fact that two events cannot be run at separate sites simultaneously.
These restrictions, initially enacted in the early 1990s, are intended to ensure that the local community retains access to premiere surf spots while also not being unnecessarily burdened by the crowds marquee events draw to the stretch of coast.
Since then the then-ASP, now-WSL, has commanded the lion's share of available dates. In the 2017-2018 season they controlled eleven of fifteen contest days, spread out over three events. The WSL ran the Pipemasters, Volcom Pipe Pro, and Pipeline Pro. The remaining four days went to the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout.
It's an arrangement that is obviously skewed in favor of professional surfing, with only one community run event, the Backdoor Shootout, on the calendar.
Nevertheless, the WSL wants more. If not in the form of more competition days, then in the form of concessions that will make it easier for them to run events and attain sponsorship dollars.
In an email dated December 15, 2017 from Jodi Wilmott, VP Events APAC + Regional GM Hawaii/Tahiti Nui at the WSL, to Michelle Nekota, Director of the City & County of Honolulu's Department of Parks and Recreation, Ms Wilmott spelled out the WSL's wish list regarding changes to existing regulations.
Among requests to swap permits among contest sites, which were denied in a public spectacle this past winter, they include:
-Multi-year permits, via bid process, requiring a permit fee
-requests for extended event day hours
-the ability to sell merchandise on off-days
Here are the City & County’s proposed rule changes that apply to what the WSL requested:
Amending the period for permitting of a surf event on the North Shore; changes scheduling of surf events on the North Shore from an annual calendar to a triennial calendar
-A competition day shall consist of eight hours of competition. The director may, in the director’s discretion, grant an extension of up to a maximum of thirty minutes to a competition day if the extension facilitates completion of a heat. Any extension granted shall be added to the total competition hours for the event.
-Inserted language in §19-4-11: Regulations governing surf events held on the north shore that allows the Director of Parks and Recreation to "waive any provision of this chapter, if the waiver is consistent with the purposes of this chapter and in the public interest." In essence, this allows the Director of Parks and Recreation to extend competition hours and dates for a contest, if they so choose.
While the WSL did not get everything they asked for, it seems that more substantive requests are likely to be granted. Multi-year permits are a boon to a larger organization looking to lock in sponsorship revenue years in advance. In its ideal world, the WSL would have received five year permits, though one suspects they are satisfied with a meet-in-the-middle three.
Extended event hours are also being granted to the WSL in the proposed rule changes. Contests will now be able to begin a half hour earlier, at 8:30 am, and can be granted a variance by the Director of P&R allowing an extra half hour of competition each day, at the Director's discretion. The extra hours will not be counted toward the maximum amount allowed by the permit.
From a fan's perspective, the extended hours are a boon. With a wider time range in which to conduct heats, as well as the opportunity to squeak out another heat should the surf continue to fire toward the end of the day, the WSL will have an easier time running heats in optimal conditions.
However, because quality swell at Pipeline is a relatively limited commodity and the available daylight hours are a zero-sum game, these changes will diminish the amount of time non-professional surfers, both locals and visitors, have access to the wave.
Furthermore, should the City & County begin granting permits on a triennial basis it will become even more difficult, verging on impossible, for smaller, local, or non-mainstream events to run events at Pipeline. Barring the bankruptcy and dissolution of the WSL smaller potential stakeholders will have a mere three opportunities per decade to apply for a permit.
It's worth noting that while multi-year permits have been considered in the past, there is no evidence of any stakeholder, other than the WSL, currently lobbying for them.
Changes to the conflict resolution process among stakeholders with overlapping applications holds deep potential ramifications for the future. Whereas in previous years the conflicting applicants were directed to mediate resolutions among themselves, the newer process will leave the final decisions in the hands of an advisory committee. At this time it appears said committee will consist of Keone Downing, Brian Keaulana, Tony Moniz, as well as one additional member who has yet to be determined.
The reasons for this change are crystal clear: Da Hui and Alan Lennard. Lennard applies yearly to run the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic and Da Hui applies to run the Backdoor Shootout. Lennard and Da Hui are both considered to be a thorn in the City & County’s side. The City & County knows that every year they are closely monitoring the permit process to ensure all rules are complied with and followed to the letter. If any rules are broken to allow concessions to other parties, it is inevitable the City & County will hear from them.
Both parties have a reputation for being difficult, and have been the source of litigiousness on a regular basis for going on two decades. While it would be easy to dismiss both parties out of hand as needlessly vexatious, the truth is that both parties have been more or less forced into the role by the presence of the World Surf League. While it is possible that the WSL could be denied permits for Pipeline, in reality, that has never once happened. The permit dispute between the WSL and City & County earlier this year was a result of the WSL missing a deadline to amend their applications, however the original applications were, in fact, approved.
As such, both Lennard and Da Hui find themselves in competition for the few days that remain on the calendar, once the WSL has been awarded the majority of days available.
Despite their well-earned reputations for being difficult the fact remains that they have been able to find accommodation year after year. This year Lennard was initially granted his permit to run the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic in 2019 while Da Hui was not granted a permit for the Backdoor Shootout. The two parties were eventually able to reach an accord in which Lennard withdrew his application in exchange for Da Hui's commitment to run a thirty person bodysurfing event during the Backdoor Shootout.
Emails between the two parties show that, while the negotiations were not necessarily conducted on the friendliest of terms, they were effective and led to a situation in which everyone got some of what they wanted, if not everything.
In contrast, the WSL was unable to reach an accord with Da Hui, leading to an email from Jodi Wilmott to the Department of Parks and Recreation Director Michelle Nekota explaining why they considered it impossible to negotiate with the club.
(Though irrelevant to the current issue it's interesting that Wilmott's email contains a confirmation that the "WSL stands committed to our original permit applications for North Shore Winter 2018/19" as of November 8, 2017. This is in direct conflict with earlier statements from Deputy Commissioner Renato Hickel.
While it's understandable that the mayor's office would seek to streamline the appeal/mediation process for conflicting events due to the fact that they take up an inordinate amount of time and effort for issues which are, frankly, unimportant in the scheme of running a large county, it's unfortunate that the solution seems to turn a heretofore legal process into a political one.
Yet it's undeniable that each year the City & County finds itself between a rock and a hard place, with multiple stakeholders feeling deeply invested and possessing an understandable sense of ownership and entitlement toward the venues. The appointment of a knowledgeable committee consisting of respected individuals may go far toward alleviating the hassle.
However, the change's efficacy is by no means a foregone conclusion. The repeal of the appeal process could lead to an influx of contested case hearings under HRS§91-9, a process by which parties may seek redress through an administrative hearing. The City & County’s obvious desire to curtail litigiousness through the changes may have the opposite effect.
In the end, one fails to see any benefit from the proposed rule changes to parties other than the WSL. The new rules would, indeed, facilitate their desire to find long-term sponsorships, and remove the annual inconvenience of applying for a permit they may not receive, though always have when they submitted permit applications.
Whether the residents of the City & County of Honolulu wish to facilitate the World Surf League's ambitions remain to be seen. To that end the C&C is asking for public comment on "Tuesday, July 3, 2018 beginning at 2 p.m. in the Conference Room of the Mission Memorial Building located at 550 S. King Street next to Honolulu Hale.
"Persons unable to attend or wishing to present additional comments may mail written testimony to the Department of Parks and Recreation, Executive Services Division, 1000 Uluohia Street, Suite 309, Kapolei, Hawaii 96707, no later than July 11, 2018.
Stab reached out to the WSL who declined to comment on the issue.