On a warm Hawaiian Saturday afternoon, with a strong breeze from the north whipping up the lineup at Haleiwa, one of the most exciting finals in the event’s history played out as Maui's Dusty Payne claimed the first leg of the Vans Triple Crown, besting Julian Wilson, Jeremy Flores, and Adam Melling, respectively. The event, which kicked off just a few days ago, bore witness to nearly every type of condition the ocean could manifest.
While conditions on the opening day were marked with precision rail work and the thundering sets that have forged Haleiwa's fearsome reputation, as the swell subsided, the vast majority of the best-scoring waves came from high-tech airs. Throughout the final day, both Julian and Dusty brought the crowd and the announcers to their feet on more than one occasion, stomping one massive air after another. In the final, Julian drew first blood, dropping a quick 9-point ride to set a blistering pace. Ten minutes later, Julian boosted a stratospheric slob to combo the entire the heat. With 20 minutes remaining, and with the bulk of both pundits and surf fans alike assuming that Julian had already written his name across the event, Dusty would counter, but this time, without taking to the air. First, he posted a solid 8-point ride. Moments later, he tore the living hell out of an overhead set to drop a 9.87. Suddenly, things became very interesting. It was clear that both Melling and Flores were too far back to make a push, but Dusty was surfing with a kind of raw determination. And just when it seemed outside the realm of possibility, Dusty did the impossible. On a wave ripe with potential, Dusty went slightly bigger, carved slightly harder. This time, he'd posted 9.97. He'd taken back the lead. "I threw everything I had at that wave," he would later say.
After coming back into the final with a vengeance and combo-ing the rest of the field with a 9.87 and a 9.77, you were left with the feeling that Dusty could really do it, but Julian still couldn’t be counted out. And although Julian would fire back in an attempt to counter time and again—taking to the air and linking a slew of unblemished carves together at every opportunity—it wouldn't be enough. This day belonged to Dusty.
"At first, I kind of figured Julian wrapped it up and we were fighting for second. Then two magical waves showed up and I got really lucky," Dusty said through tears while standing on the winner’s podium. "I was asking myself what would Andy do? He would throw everything he had it and that's what I attempted to do. I didn't give up on myself; I just kept fighting."
Although he’s racked up enough points to put him in a theoretical shot to qualify for Tour, his win moved him from 97th to 24th, Dusty knows it’s a long shot. “I’m not even thinking about that. I’m just gonna surf one wave a time,” he said.
While Dusty's story was undeniably one to remember—he’s been plagued with one injury after another throughout his professional career—Julian's performance was also nothing short of inspiring. Heading into the Vans Triple Crown, Julian found himself in a very precarious position. He's had a downright disastrous year on the World Tour and not requalifying was a real possibility. With his competitive career on the line, Julian grit his teeth and went to work and was able to solidify his spot on tour next year by racking up some valuable 'QS points with his second-place finish.
Remarkably, Julian wasn't the only surfer in the final needing a major result to ensure that he doesn't lose his place on the World Tour. Jeremy Flores, who's had an outright shocker of a season, faced disciplinary action from the ASP over an altercation with the judges earlier in the year. His penalty, which included a $6,000 fine and a suspension from the US Open and Tahiti, meant that Flores would have to put on a phenomenal performance throughout the Hawaiian leg of the season. With his showing today, Flores is also looking very strong to requalify. Melling, who’s currently sitting on the back end of the World Tour ratings, is at the front of the QS and will requalify for the WCT.