It started out a wash. Literally. A week ago the 2008 Xcel Pro kicked off in a vast pasture of confused, 6-8 foot bails of whitewater rolling from, seemingly, every direction. And, really, it was the best way to get things started. After all, Sunset has a reputation to uphold, a demoralizing, kick-you-when-your-down persona to exude. So it seemed fitting that after a week of waiting and six rounds of competition later, an all-Hawaiian final would set out in near-flawless and absolutely classic conditions to decide a champion. And most appropriately, a local champion.
But which local? That was the question. It seemed like every Hawaiian that entered the damn event was owning it — aside from Florida's Tommy O'Brien who squeaked out of the Hawaiian hold down and made his way to the Semis. From past finalist Makuakai Rothman to Day 2 standout and defending champ Joel Centeio to the legendary Liam McNamara, the highlight real was splattered with the local boys. But none of them put on a show quite like Pancho Sullivan, who had bailed on the 'CT event in Brazil to return home to his family, heal an ailing injury and prepare for the Triple Crown. From Round 3 clear to the Final, the long-time North Shore local did not loose. In fact, he did nothing but dominate — displaying for us, in case we forgot, how incredibly powerful and poised he is in waves of consequence.
And contest organizers waited a week for such conditions of consequence. By dawn on Thursday, they got their wish. A classic 6-8 foot northwest swell consistently filled in throughout the day, meeting clear skies and light winds. And as it got bigger and more perfect, Pancho and his fellow Islanders got better.
By Finals time, proper sets were rolling in about ten minutes apart — one of those timed perfectly for the opening minutes of the heat. And Pancho capitalized. Wait, he destroyed. Dropping in coolly, Sullivan faded into the bowl and slid into the tube only to fire out, set up with a check cutty and finished off with one of those patented Pancho hacks for a 9.77. Behind him, Kauaian Kamalei Alexander, who had been benefiting from brilliant wave selection throughout the day, bombed into a similar yet shorter tube for a 9.0. Behind him, Makuakai dismantled another beauty for an 8.5.
And wow — the heat had just started.
With 13 minutes left on the ticker, the lone goofy-footer Danny Fuller finally got his piece, proving his place in the pack with an 8.97. Clearly, no one was prepared to give up. But as time bled away and Alexander, Fuller and Rothman all needed basically 9.5s or better to take out Pancho's heavy handed 18.44, it seemed Sullivan was on his way to his 4th Xcel Pro championship — a feat that would tie him with Michael Ho for the most wins in this event. Even a buzzer-beater by Alexander that entailed two short but clean tubes wasn't enough to steal the thunder.
"Every time I paddled out today, I was amazed," Pancho said of the surfing and classic conditions. "You couldn't help but be inspired.
"This was the most exciting final I've ever surfed out here at Sunset."
Stay tuned for a full interview with Pancho and get all the event stats and video highlights at www.xcelpro.xcelwetsuits.com/2008