On a Wednesday afternoon, while most people were working, Sunset Beach was teeming with people: competitors and their entourages (caddies, agents, managers, girlfriends, and groupies), vacationers, surf industry people busy at "work," and the delightfully unemployed. The surf was 8- to 10-foot, but the rapidly increasing swell promised finalists a legitimate Hawaiian finale to a season on sometimes-lackluster conditions. The thing about Hawaii is that swell size can double in the course of an hour. You can be surfing playful, shoulder-high waves, when suddenly a double-overhead clean-up set comes through, sending everyone flailing for the channel and paddling in to trade out for a bigger boards.
Such was the case today as the Vans Triple Crown neared completion, as the triple-overhead sets quickly ushered out the already sizeable surf that had welcomed the Round of 32 at dawn. This year's event was blessed with four days of sunshine and clean, sizeable waves—a combination that Hawaii's unpredictable weather patterns have neglected entirely in events past—with each day offering nothing less than overhead swell.
The O'Neill World Cup of Surfing is the second jewel of the Vans Triple Crown as well as the last event of the 'QS, meaning that there was more on the line than prize money: the event represented either a golden ticket to world tourdom or the demotion to another year of groveling through the WQS.
For those of you not blessed with the luxury of spending weekdays lounging at the beach in Hawaii, or logged on to the webcast to watch the event, here are the highlights of the final day of competition:
The Rare Backside Sunset Win
It's been 11 years since a backsider has won the Sunset event, and it's also been a long time since C.J. Hobgood won a WQS event. But today the goofyfooter added his name to the list of Sunset champs, catching the biggest wave of the final. "My usual experience out at Sunset is just getting worked pretty much," says Hobgood. "This ranks up there with my World Tour wins and everything else because I never totally pictured myself winning this contest so it ranks that much higher."
The Young Standout
With his fourth-place finish in Haleiwa and a fifth-place finish at Sunset, 19-year-old Dusty Payne slips into the Triple Crown lead. His good results (and the fact that he is a Hawaiian contender—one of the qualifications for the wildcard slot) earned him a spot to compete in the Pipe Masters, the final event of the ASP World Tour. Currently Derek Ho holds the record for the youngest Triple Crown winner, having won the title at 20-years-old in 1984. With plenty of swell on the horizon, Dusty will face the Top 45 in hopes of securing himself the record as the youngest Triple Crown winner ever.
The Stat Leader
Surfing with ease, power, and impeccable timing, Jordy Smith was the obvious standout of the final day of the event, comfortably winning his way through three rounds. He chalked up the highest one-wave score (a perfect 10) and the highest heat score (18.5) of the event. In his quarterfinal, his lowest throw-away scores were 8.4 and 8.5—scores that, for most of his fellow competitors, would result in a heat win. Unfortunately, his winning streak fell just short of the Final, where Jordy was unable to get a decent scoring wave.
The Latest on the Qualification Bubble
With the pressure of qualification looming, several surfers came to Sunset in the uncomfortable position of needing a good finish in the event in order to finally step out of the qualifying series and into the big leagues. But for some, the waves and scores never came. Yadin Nicol needed a finals finish in order to increase his ranking, but was defeated by C.J. Hobgood and Dusty Payne in the quarters, relegating him to the 'QS once again. After this event, two surfers remain on the bubble for requalification, sitting just below the Top 15 cutoff: Marlon Lipke, who's currently ranked 16th and Pat Gudauskas, sitting in 17th. As it stands now, if Tiago Pires double-qualifies (that is, if he also requalifies on the WCT after the Pipe event), then Lipke will move up the WQS rankings, and make the Dream Tour. Pat is next on the list if any other surfer is injured (or decides to retire) before the start of next year's season.
1st- CJ Hobgood (US) 15.00 (8.5 and 6.5) $15, 000
2nd- Tom Whitaker (Aus) 12.67 (7.67 and 5.00) $7,500
3rd- Marcus Hickman (HI) 8.33 (6.33 and 2.00) $4,500
4th- Jordy Smith (Zaf) 2.86 (1.73 and 1.13) $4,400
FINAL WQS RANKINGS:
1. Nathaniel Curran (US)
2. Chris Davidson (Aus)
3. Michel Bourez (Pyf)
4. Gabe Kling (US)
5. Jihad Khodr (Bra)
6. Josh Kerr (Aus)
7. Nic Muscroft (Aus)
8. David Weare (Zaf)
9. Kekoa Bacalso (HI)
10. Tim Boal (Fra)
11. Greg Emslie (Zaf)
12. Dustin Barca (HI)
13. Tiago Pires (Bra)
14. Phillip MacDonald (Aus)
15. Drew Courtney (Aus)