Triple Crown directors retire


Longtime Triple Crown officials are retiring at the end of this season. From left to right: announcer Nuno Jonet, site builder Skil Johnson, owner and director of the Triple Crown Randy Rarick, judge Jack Shipley, and contest director Bernie Baker.

After this winter season, Randy Rarrick will be retiring from his executive director position at the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. The 63-year-old from Sunset Beach has been with the iconic surf series since its inception 30 years ago. He started as an assistant to Triple Crown Founder Fred Hemmings, and eventually worked his way up to the head honcho of the prestigious North Shore event. He realizes that in order for the Triple Crown to thrive for another three decades it's time for a younger set of administrators to step up. Retiring from the North Shore-based surf series alongside him will be Skil Johnson, Bernie Baker, Jack Shipley and Nuno Jonet.

Rarick is leaving some big shoes to fill. There are few surfers as well-spoken (he attributes his success as a public speaker to Toast Masters.) He is also widely-regarded as the most-traveled surfer in the world, having surfed over 70 different countries. Furthermore, Rarick is also a master board builder and one of the best swell forecasters on the North Shore. He can tell how Haleiwa and Pipeline are breaking just by watching Sunset Point at sunrise with his morning cup of coffee. Perhaps the greatest loss for the Triple Crown, is Rarick's ability to mediate conflicts with gnarly pro surfers and the surf establishment, retaining true aloha for the North Shore community.

We caught up with Randy during the height of the Triple Crown to find out why Rarick is retiring, his favorite decade of the Triple Crown and what his point of pride in his 30-year tenure with the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.

ESPN: How did you get involved with the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing?
Randy Rarick: I actually helped create it. I've been producing events for 38 years now, and we created the Triple Crown 30 years ago. There were individual events on the North Shore and we linked those three individual events into the series and that became known as the Triple Crown. So, I was actually the founder at the start of the pro tour in '76 then helped found the Triple Crown in 1983.

In the early years of pro surfing you were pulling double-duty as a competitor and contest administrator. When did you make the decision to just be a part of the contest staff?
In the first two years, 1976 and '77, I was still competing and helping run the events. That was when Fred Hemmings was producing the events, and after two years, I realized I had to do one or the other, either continue to be competitor or become an administrator. I realized I probably wasn't going to get much farther in my competitive career so I became a full-time administrator.

What did the Triple Crown contest site look like in its formative years? Well, the first Pipe Masters was a card table, six chairs and a bullhorn. Then it got a little more sophisticated; we actually put up some scaffolding that we could put in the back of a pickup truck. So for the first five years we actually had the whole contest structure all fit in one pickup truck. And now it's grown. It takes about five days, a couple of semi-trailers of equipment to do it as opposed to the days of one pickup truck.

Could you have imagined the Triple Crown growing to its current scale in the early years?
Back in the '70s, before the pro tour started, we dreamed one day you could get paid to be a surfer. Professional surfing didn't exist in those days. In '76 we started the pro tour and that was the beginning. It was dream of all of us to be a legitimate, professional surfer and here it is 38 years later. It's come to fruition and guys now are making six-figure salaries doing what they love to do. You've seen a lot change in the amount of money in professional surfing, as well as board design over the past 30 years. What was your favorite decade? I think you have to split it up in eras and each one has been interesting. As contemporary surfing continues to evolve it continues to be exciting. For me, I personally thought the 80's were the neatest because the change in surfboards -- from single-fin boards to three-fin boards -- really elevated the performance level of surfing. So I think that was the biggest change since the Shortboard Revolution in the late-60's. I've been watching [contemporary surfing] for the past 40 years and it's as exciting now as it was 40 years ago.

How many different titles have you had in your tenure with the Triple Crown?
I started off first as an assistant, and then assistant contest director, then contest director, then administrative director, and then 30 years ago it evolved into executive director position. I kind of climbed my way up the ladder from being the kid that used to help out, and I remember the first paycheck I got was $17 and that was about 40 years ago. It's definitely grown since then and same thing with the prize money. Back when we started the Triple Crown we had about $30,000 in prize money and now we have over a million dollars so it's very satisfying to see what we've contributed to the sport.

What is the biggest misconception about your job?
We give out a million dollars, so they think I'm making a million dollars in running these events, which unfortunately is not the case. I wish it was. For the amount of time and energy we put in [the Triple Crown staff] is way, way, underpaid. I mean considering what other sports promoters make, my staff and I should be making more money, but I think it's the fact that we really believe in what we do. The return we get in self-satisfaction, to some extent, balances out the amount we make in actual wages.

With all of the ratings points, prize purse and surf stars associated with the Triple Crown, it seems like the surf series' goodwill to the North Shore community is often overlooked.
Over the last 30 years, we've given to various entities and one of the earliest -- and probably the most self-satisfying -- was the Junior Lifeguards. I'm still a real advocate and I think the lifeguards here on the North Shore are the unsung heroes of the city and county workers. And, then we've given to the anti-drug programs in the schools. We've given to a lot of the sports and they actually have a surf team at Kahuku and the water polo teams. We've been really supportive of the ecological [movements] here on the North Shore. Over the last 30 years, we've probably given out over half a million dollars in actual funds to different entities and I think everyone appreciates it.

As executive director we've watched you put out some fires and mediate various conflicts during the contests. How do you keep a cool head through all the drama?
I've been a North Shore resident for 40 years so I really believe in what the North Shore represents. It's been really important for me to give back to the North Shore, but at the same time in doing these contests there's people -- whether it's traffic problems or people don't like the rule or this or that -- that I've had to deal with but it comes with the territory. You take the good with the bad, and I think the good far outweighs the bad.

Why did you decide to retire this year?
I want to keep the Triple Crown fresh and relevant. I really think it's important that the youth gets the torch passed to them. For the relevancy of the series, it's really important to be contemporary. I think a lot of our staff has been with me for over 30 years. The youth is the future so I think it's really important to get the younger generation involved as administrators. Everybody over 60 this year is retiring with me. For instance, we have guys like Marty Thomas, who is our competition director now and a former competitor himself from back in the 80's, so it's a really natural progression for him to be an administrator. You go from a competitor to an administrator and that's the way it should be.

It's not like you're going to disappear from the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing entirely, right?
I'm going to stay on as a consultant and I'm going to be there for the history and knowledge that I can bring to the table. When called upon I'll be glad to support it and I'm still going to be a little bit "in the back office" you might say where necessary, but I think the face of the Triple Crown is important to keep it fresh.


Randy Rarick, shown here awarding Mick Fanning his World Title check in 2009, says he's getting out but will still be a consultant to the Vans Triple Crown.

How much did you want to see a women's Triple Crown of Surfing materialize?
It's really disappointing because we were the first, early-supporters of women's surfing and for years and years and years we did more than anybody else. Unfortunately the economics and scale -- not just here in Hawaii, but around the world -- are working against the women, so I think the ASP and the Triple Crown are going to try to work together to bring the women back for sure. It's just a matter of financial and sponsorship support, but we're working on it.

Any parting thoughts as you prepare for retirement?
I think it's been a great run. I think I've shepherd the Triple Crown for the first 30 years and I hope the management team we have in place will continue it for the next 30 years.

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