Early professional surfing contest, held from 1969 to 1977, more often than not at Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu. As noted in a Sports Illustrated feature story, when the Smirnoff Pro-Am made its 1969 debut in Santa Cruz, its $4,350 prize purse was "an all-time high for a surfing contest." Men's division winner Corky Carroll earned $1,500; women's division winner Margo Godfrey had to settle for $150. The following year the Smirnoff contest went to an all-male format, and was moved to the North Shore, where it remained until 1977.
The Smirnoff was regarded throughout its nine-year history as one of the sport's most prestigious events (it was sometimes referred to, informally, as the "world surfing championships"), but its reputation was made on Thanksgiving Day, 1974, when the final four heats were held in gigantic 25-foot-plus surf at Waimea Bay, for what was later described by Australia's Tracks magazine as "the most spectacular day in surfing history." Five of the 18 Smirnoff competitors had never ridden Waimea before, and some made it clear they wanted nothing to do with the huge waves. Contest director and 1968 world champion Fred Hemmings finessed the situation by offering to paddle out and catch the first wave, to prove it could be done. Not wanting to be shown up in front of 5,000 spectators, the competitors agreed to surf. Hawaii's Reno Abellira, as surf journalist Drew Kampion put it, was the event's "most graceful, composed and sophisticated surfer," and he beat Jeff Hakman in the finals by a half point to take the $5,100 first-place check.
Smirnoff events were featured in a handful of surf movies, including Fluid Drive (1974), Tales from the Tube (1975), and Free Ride (1977).
Smirnoff Pro winners and locations:
1969: Corky Carroll, Margo Godfrey (Steamer Lane)
1970: Nat Young (Makaha)
1971: Gavin Rudolph (Sunset)
1972: Paul Neilsen (Haleiwa)
1973: Ian Cairns (Laniakea)
1974: Reno Abellira (Waimea)
1975: Mark Richards (Sunset)
1976: Mark Warren, Jericho Poppler (Sunset)
1977: Reno Abellira, Jericho Poppler (Sunset)