Surfing's Most Iconic Event Is In Jeopardy Thanks To A Very Dumb Dispute

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Oahu’s Pipeline is one of the most famous surf spots in the world, and the North Shore beach’s notoriously big and dangerous waves play host to the World Surf League’s biggest event of the year. Pipeline Masters, or Pipe Masters, has taken place at Pipeline since 1971, and it’s traditionally served as the final event of the competitive surfing calendar. Former world champ C.J. Hobgood called it surfing’s Madison Square Garden. However, the contest’s immediate and long term future is up in the air, and there’s no 2019 event currently scheduled, thanks to a byzantine squabble between WSL officials and the city of Honolulu.

According to Outside Magazine, the WSL decided to move the 2019 Pipe Masters up and make it the season’s first event instead of its last. After initially filing the correct permits to move it to February 2019, the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation rejected the WSL’s request on the grounds that it failed to inform them about the date change.

This apparently led Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell to get into it with WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt, and as Outside reports, Caldwell’s office ignored “phone calls, emails, and other attempts at communication” made by WSL over the last few months of 2017. When Goldschmidt traveled to Hawaii earlier this month to meet with city officials, Caldwell did not meet with Goldschmidt, which incited her to threaten to pull all WSL events from Hawaii, telling the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “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.”


As Outside notes, Goldschmidt is a surfing outsider appointed by the WSL to shake up a sporting body that’s had a run of issues in the recent past and has struggled to create a financially sustainable model. A source told them that staffing changes and a lack of experience may have led to the permitting issues, and while Caldwell appears to be ready to negotiate, the WSL are holding their line. Caldwell called for a joint advisory board and a smoothing of the permitting process, saying, “We’ve heard your concerns, and we’d like to see what we can do to make it better in the future, but let’s not hurt folks in the short term.”

The WSL can still hold Pipe Masters in December 2019, but they’re not ready to back down. There is currently no Pipe Masters schedule for 2019, and as a press release from last week ominously said, “The WSL will pursue alternative options to open the season next year.”