Surf: Clean, 6 feet and fading. Fast.
Events Held: Round Two (the dreaded “Loser’s Round”)
Nature’s Call: Let’s just get this one out of the way.
Predicted: A freaky, freaky Friday.
You don’t pick Sunset; Sunset picks you. That much was clear today as event organizers decided to finish Round Two and load up the cannons for Friday’s finale in predicted 10-foot-plus surf.Just ask Taylor Knox how Sunset plays random favorites. Ever since he made a World Cup final at the break in 1993, the place has shut him down. He’s gotten inside tips from gurus like Mike Ho, surfed it more than Ken Bradshaw. . .he’s done everything to try and win back its love since they first connected 10 years ago. After his Round One heat, when he struggled to put together six measly points, he figured it was never going to happen. “Why can’t Sunset give me waves like that?” the new OP teamrider pleaded as Mick Fanning arced across another open-face bomb. “It’s like the place just doesn’t like me anymore.”But ask him how he and Sunset are doing after today’s heat, and you’d think the two were old soul mates. In a 15-minute span this morning, he drove through two of the morning’s best barrels and racked up the highest combined heat score of the event: 17.6. His second and better barrel, a 9.1, came from way behind the peak. If Sunset had its normal way with Knox, it would have shut him down and spanked him hard. Even wildcard Love Hodel’s caddy yelled to Love from the channel, “Let him go! Let him go!”But at the second, “go,” the Bowl opened up, and Knox stood tall for one, two, three seconds, spitting him straight into Round Three. “Knoxy!?” freaked last year’s Rip Curl Cup winner, Joel Parkinson, who was caddying for Shane Powell. “What’s gotten into him?” Knox was so stoked, he kept paddling back out even after the heat ended. “I just want to get barreled!” he yelled.

Fourth-ranked Taj Burrow’s also feeling warm and fuzzy after winning his early morning heat. As his fellow world title contenders enjoyed a round off, Burrow fretted over what board to ride, sitting on the bleachers for a good hour before making his choice. “Whaddya reckon? Can I get away with it?” he asked your correspondent, who got away with riding a 6’9″ for the dawn patrol. “That’s music to my ears,” he replied, when I told him he could. But I should have told him this: 6’5″, 7’6″, 6’9″. . .it doesn’t matter. If Sunset likes you today, you will advance.Still, there’s a flipside to the theory: Sunset will turn on anyone at any time. No matter how much you know, how loyal you are or how well you surf it, Sunset will deny you and leave you faithless. Take this year’s Xcel Pro winner, Pancho Sullivan, for example. If there were ever a surfer made for Sunset, it’s Pancho. Ask any surfer on tour, and they’ll you the same thing: this guy should have a collection of Rip Curl Cup titles by now. But today proved he’ll have to wait at least another year. While his fellow competitors Mick Lowe and Luke Hitchings found wave after lined-up wave, Pancho was out of synch and out of sorts. “We’re locked up right now,” said Love Hodel of he and fellow wildcard Pancho Sullivan’s failure to dominate. “Maybe it’s the pressure; I don’t know.”A few others fell out of Sunset’s favor at a bad time. Nathan Hedge, currently ranked 25th on the WCT, has been surfing the place more than anyone. He was first one out this morning, put in at least two sessions in yesterday’s 8-foot slop and has one of the better backhands going at the break. But today: denied.Same with solid Sunset surfer Shane Powell (currently 30th on the ‘CT), Beau Emerton (29th on the ‘CT) and poor Lee Winkler (currently 31st but qualifying through the WQS), who would have scored straight 10s on an inside supersuck if some weird little clamshell bit hadn’t flicked him off at the exit. “That would have been it!” he yelled, slapping the water.Lucky for these guys, though, advancing at Sunset isn’t all predetermined. Let’s not forget: these heats are four-man, two advance. Each day, there’s only a few chosen ones, which means the rest of guys move on through hard labor. Like Hodel, without question the most “in the know” competitor still going. Nothing came easy to him today, but he ground it out with a few solid turns on less-than-ideal waves. Shaking his head at the mystery better known as Sunset, he said, “I know the Inside Bowl better than my girlfriend. But sometimes, it doesn’t want to know me.”In other words: Sunset is a hard wave to please. — Evan Slater Rip Curl Cup Round Two (1st, 2nd>Rnd3; 3rd, 4th=33rd receive US$3,000)
{{{H1}}}: Taj Burrow (Aus) 14.07; Manoa Drollet (Tah) 11.67; Lee Winkler (Aus) 6.33; Armando Daltro (Brz) 0.0
{{{H2}}}: Taylor Knox (USA) 17.6; Love Hodel (Haw) 11.03; Beau Emerton (Aus) 9.0; Shane Powell (Aus) 4.93
{{{H3}}}: Michael Lowe (Aus) 14.03; Luke Hitchings (Aus) 11.17; Pancho Sullivan (Haw) 9.33; Nathan Hedge (Aus) 9.07
H4: Darren O’Rafferty (Aus) 12.84; Luke Egan (Aus) 9.73; Sean Moody (Haw) 5.93; Victor Ribas (Brz) 3.83
H5: Phil MacDonald (Aus) 14.44; Joel Centeio (Haw); Shea Lopez (USA); Toby Martin (Aus)
H6: Dean Morrison (Aus) 9.46; Luke Stedman (Aus) 9.4; Jamie O’Brien (Haw) 9.26; Paulo Moura (Brz) 7.76
H7: Kalani Robb (Haw) 10.5; Damien Hobgood (USA) 10.17; Tim Curran (USA) 8.46; Danilo Costa (Brz) 7.5
H8: Richard Lovett (Aus) 12.4; Jake Paterson (Aus) 11.67; Tom Whitaker (Aus) 5.47; Fabio Gouveia (Brz) 4.34