Hawaii’s Joe Turpel, the modern voice of surfing, looking forward to WSL’s return as he looks back at how it all started

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Joe Turpel

Before becoming one of the most prominent voices in the surfing world for over a decade, Joe Turpel was inspired to pursue sportscasting as a student at Punahou.

“I was taking a summer school class at Punahou and the teacher was Pal Eldredge and he made us do a sports report of our favorite team,” Turpel recalled to KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “I was playing baseball at the time and I did a full Dodgers breakdown of their last game and Mr. Eldredge said ‘hey, you might wanna take this VHS tape back to your parents and show them what you did today,’ and I was like ‘what do you mean?’ He’s like ‘maybe you should do this in your life.’ That was the first time I was like ‘oh my gosh, maybe I want to be a broadcaster.’”

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During Turpel’s years holding play-by-play duties for the World Surf League, like many, he’s never had to deal with a work stoppage as long as the COVID-19 pandemic provided.

It was while he was calling fellow former Punahou product Carissa Moore’s WSL Challenger series event victory at the Sydney Surf Pro that Turpel realized there may not be another event to cover for a while. The WSL canceled all remaining events for March before canceling the 2020 Championship Tour season because of the pandemic.

“We had like a heat to go and we realized this might be maybe the last heat of the year,” Turpel said of calling Moore’s victory in March. “At the time it seemed surreal. It just felt like ‘wait, is this going to be a couple of weeks or is Snapper (Rocks) gonna be back on?’ Then eventually it led to further down, the full cancelation of 2020.”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, it gave Turpel the unexpected blessing of being able to spend more quality time with his family, most notably his 2-year-old daughter, Cozy.

“That transition for me was really healthy, just to be incredibly present and just waking up with my daughter every morning and making breakfast and checking the surf at Rocky Point (on the North Shore) was just, I got really used to that all of a sudden and I didn’t have a flight coming up and I think for my family, they were like ‘Oh, wow, you’re still here,’” Turpel said.

Turpel returned to his job as host and play-by-play announcer for the WSL this past weekend in Los Angeles for the Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold Rumble at The Ranch, which took place at surfing legend Kelly Slater’s man-made Surf Ranch. The event was won by Brazil Filipe Toledo and Hawaii’s Coco Ho. Ho dedicated the win to her late uncle, Hawaii surfing legend Derek Ho, who passed away from a heart attack on July 17. To Turpel, the small return to normalcy was a welcome one.

“Everyone was just so happy to be able to do what they love again but with a different appreciation,” he said. “It reminds you exactly why we do what we do and it just emphasizes that it’s a total dream to be a part of.”

After a hiatus, the targeted return for WSL championship series is the Women’s Maui Pro in late November and Men’s Pipe Masters in early December. For Turpel, it means the modern voice of surfing gets to return to what he was destined to do from a young age.

“It’s still honestly surreal. I have a hard time saying that myself because it feels too big,” he said. “For me, I’m still this kid that loves to surf so to be able to even think that is incredible. I almost don’t spend too much time thinking about it because it feels too big. I’m just enjoying it all. It’s definitely an honor to hear something like that.”

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