I’ve been isolating this week, amusing myself with more stories and pictures from the vault. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Between 1999 and 2003 I was the event director of the Quiksilver Masters World Championships, with my good friend Rod Brooks as contest director. These were invitational events for professional champions across the several decades since pro surfing began, and for those of us who had been involved in that journey from the start, they were wonderful reunions in exotic locations. But they were also fiercely competitive.
After two successful events at our home base of south-west France in 1999 and 2000, in 2001 Quiksilver management approved my request to run the event in Bundoran, Ireland, a move that was hugely popular with competitors and the Irish surfing community, except for a couple of guys in Donegal who wanted to kill me. We ran the event over late August and early September, heading home to France just as 9/11 caused the cancellation of the remainder of the ASP world tour because the Americans were afraid to travel.
This should have been a warning sign, but my colleague Jeff Hakman and I went ahead with our next big idea anyway – to make the next Masters the first professional surfing contest in Morocco. After many trips to the seaport town of Safi and its incredible righthand point, we secured funding from the Wali (mayor) and the Royaume du Maroc (royal family) who had extensive landholdings, including the port facility. They agreed to build a new road to the surf break and seal a large car park for us.
We’d missed the best season for Safi so we decided to skip 2002 and run the Maroc Masters in February 2003. But by the end of the year the American president was sabre-rattling about weapons of mass destruction and threatening to invade Iraq. Suddenly all Muslim countries were the enemy. After a heated late-night phone conference with the Quiksilver board in California, I was ordered to get out of the deal. On a freezing morning in Paris just before Christmas, I had to apologise (in French) to the Royaume (through their representative, the ambassador) and negate the deal. It was the most embarrassing moment in my professional life, and there have been a few.
Fortunately there was a plan B. Hakman had pulled strings in Hawaii and gained the approval of Buffalo Keaulana, the chief elder of Makaha, to bring world title surfing back to the Southside for the first time in 40 years. A few weeks after freezing in Paris, I was winging my way to Honolulu.
The Makaha Masters was put together in a hurry but right from the start it had a warm, family feeling. Old friends, the Keaulanas, made us feel very welcome, as did the DeSoto clan. I wanted to make sure our event images conveyed the camaraderie of the event so I hired the great French black and white portrait specialist Maurice Rebeix to fly out and shoot behind the scenes.
For the record, the oldest surfer in the event, Nat Young, then 55, rode the biggest waves (15ft-plus), Gary Elkerton won the Masters division (his third Masters title) and Rabbit Bartholomew the Grand Masters, and after it, Quiksilver walked away from the Masters and never sponsored it again. Fortunately they didn’t walk away from me, not yet.
It was a tough year but a great week in Makaha, and Maurice’s photos, which were exhibited in Quiksilver Boardrider stores around the world, remind me of how, in surfing, our big, dysfunctional, crazy/wonderful family is so important.
1. Our event poster, showing Makaha’s outside section at a good size and groomed by strong trade winds. We had two beautiful days like this, one of them twice the size.
2. Elko, never one to hide his light under a bushel, claims his third Masters world title. Runner up Brad Gerlach to his left, Grand Masters winner Rabbit Bartholomew and runner up Mark Richards.
3. MR tunes the next generation (or maybe the one after that) on where to sit in the tricky Makaha lineup.
4. After the first big day, the original Bronzed Aussies getting retuned at the massage tent. Medical officer Dr Leland Dau in the background, your correspondent back left behind PT.
5. Quiksilver family. L to R: Cherie Hakman, (the late) Janice Raymond, surf legend Jeff Hakman, Ryan Hakman, Bruce Raymond, Ben Raymond.
6. On the biggest day water patrol Brian Keaulana and Titus Kinimaka pull on the boots to try out the newfangled hydrofoils.
7. Da local boys.
8. True aloha – Titus and Reno Abellira, long before homelessness.
9. Three-times world champion Tom Curren training in our hotel pool.
10. At the other end, our host Buffalo Keaulana entertains his grandkids.
11. Musician and waterman Mel Pu’u and his ohana.
12. The Makaha Masters contest site – beautiful.