WHO ARRIVED: {{{CJ}}} Hobgood (“I’m finally starting to feel like a surfer again.”); Pat O’Connell (“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want that injury wildcard.”); Tom Carroll (Second tour of duty, armed with a few new spears and a 5’5″ tow board); Ross Clarke Jones (Surfing Sunset while waiting for the 50-year swell. “You’ve heard of any coming?”); Darryl “Flea” Virostko (“Don’t talk to me about that Maverick’s swell.”); Laird Hamilton (At the Eddie ceremony: “I came here to pay my respects.”); a fit Peter Mel (“A few pounds down, a few more to go.”); Nathan Fletcher (Logging in the hours at Rockpile.); Sean Slater (Here to cheer his brother on to victory at Pipe.); Shawn “Barney” Barron (“It’s like a trade show here, but with good waves.”); Allen Sarlo (“I’ve got good timing, eh?”). WHO LEFT: Armando Daltro (Family problems at home); Laird Hamilton (Back to Maui to resume Jaws and Baby Watch); Pat Gudauskas (busted eardrum); Dane Gudauskas (cut foot); Dino Andino (“I’ll be back for Pipe, dude.”); Sunny Garcia (back to Cali after the ASP wildcard meeting).PERFORMANCES: Last Monday will likely go down as the worst day all year on the North Shore (and that’s saying a lot considering that dreadful flat spell a couple of weeks ago). No swell, a light, onshore piss wind, heavy cloud cover and light rain.. .Backdoor/Pipe looked more like a summer morning at Atascadero State Beach than the world’s ultimate surf stage. But after hitting “Rock” bottom, it steadily improved all week, peaking on Saturday/Sunday with the two best days since the masses arrived. As always, we have some more superlatives for you, even outside all the drama at the Rip Curl Cup.

MOST SPORTSMANLIKE: Sunset Beach, Tues. Dec. 2. A big windswell crept up overnight, turning most of the North Shore into a mess. Sunset made some sense of the north/northeaster, with consistent, 6-foot-plus waves moving across the Bowl. When Randy Rarick and Rip Curl decided to hold off and run the event the following day, the ultimate practice session was on. First on the floor? Mick Fanning, of course. With his Gold Coast coach Phil McNamara in the channel and the word “Commitment” scrawled in permanent marker on his left hand, Fanning surfed the slop so well, people actually started thinking it was good out there. “I can’t believe they’re not running this thing,” said Shane Beschen from the parking lot. A handful of other down-to-business competitors punched in the clock, including Joel Parkinson, Love Hodel, Luke Hitchings, Nathan Hedge, Taylor Knox and others. But perhaps the biggest splash occurred when Kelly Slater put in his time around mid-morning. On a little 6’6″ (“You can always get away with riding a shorter board in North Swell Sunset.”), he floated, carved and threw his tail all over the end bowl. Too bad it didn’t come so easy during game time.

MOST DEDICATED: Ian Walsh, every day. Dawn patrolling with his friend Fanning at Sunset, charging big, ledgy Rockpile, finding those 20-minute tube windows at Insanities...Maui up-and-comer Ian Walsh is all over the North Shore. And the scary thing is, it hasn’t even really turned on yet.WEIRDEST: Waimea sandbar, Tues. Dec. 2. The downside to all the flooding from 10 days ago? Ruined homes. Jesse Merle Jones and Mark Healey are still drying out after “waterfalls” came pouring through their Pipe abode, ruining the carpets and other key items. The upside? A strange, rippable little sandbar just in front of the flowing Waimea River. Aamion Goodwin and Merle Jones ripped the lefts; Dustin Barca navigated the foamy, double-suck rights. Either way you chose, it didn’t feel like the North Shore.FRESHEST: Rockpile, Dec 5 and 6. Tom Carroll used to be one of the only guys who charged Rockpile when it’s on. He’s now far from alone. With persistent North Swell detonating during the end of the week, Rockpile was the non-contest alternative for a handful of soldiers looking for ledges. On Friday, it was connecting across through Insanities, offering multiple tube sections for guys like Nathan Fletcher and Aamion Goodwin. The following day, it jumped up a notch or two, with big, stacked-up lurchers well beyond the Pile. Danny Fuller pulled into a couple bombs, as did Peter Mel, Todd Morcom, Ian Walsh, Healey, Dave Wassel, Chris Taloa and others. But Rockpile woulnd’t be Rockpile without Mr. Carroll, who schooled ’em all with some late-afternoon rail work.MOST CLASSIC: Sunset, Saturday Dec. 6. Forecasters called for a dropping swell on Saturday, so Rarick and the gang rushed the contest through on Friday in “good” Sunset. But the “best” Sunset, what some are calling the best Sunset in a few years, occurred the following day. Bradshaw, Sarlo and a few other wave killers were on it early, but it only got better through the day, peaking with Michael Ho’s {{{Suburban}}}-size tube on the Inside. Others got their share as well (which is a feat in itself since it was as packed as it gets), including Pancho Sullivan, Carlos Burle, Mickey Picon, Tom Carroll, Love Hodel, Kalani Chapman and the old-but-bold Peter Cole.

BEST: Kelly Slater and Bruce Irons, Backdoor, Sat. Dec. 6. Sure, it was short-lived, but during a strange, 2:00 – 2:45 p.m. window on a mostly north swell Saturday, Bruce Irons and Kelly Slater gave us a preview of what to expect at this week’s Masters. Let’s make this clear: there were no open Backdoor waves before or after Bruce and Kelly paddled out. But it seems as though these two (along with Bruce’s brother, Andy) have a way of willing these waves to come when they’re out there. Bruce started it with a freefall-to-streak through two sections and a nose-tweak exit. Kelly ended it — as he always likes to do — with a foamball ride on a wedging, 6-foot frother. Did he come flying out? Do we even need to ask?MOST PHOTOGENIC/DANGEROUS: Pipe/Backdoor, Sun. Dec. 7. What happens when the North Shore gets its first clean, 4- to 6-foot day at Pipe/Backdoor in over a month? We’ll let the numbers do the talking. By the time legendary SURFING photog Aaron Chang left for church at around 9:00 a.m., he counted 21 surfers in the water (most of them names like Andy and Bruce Irons, Kelly Slater, Taylor Knox, Shane Dorian, etc.), 22 water photographers and 47 land shooters. As Dean “Dingo” Morrison said in his best Aussie/Hawaiian accent: “It’s these kind of days people get hurt, brah.” And they did. Jake Paterson got a few staples in his head after nailing the reef, and Makua Rothman took a chunk out of his knee when he hit the reef full force (resulting in some stitches). The photogs took their lumps, too, as Aussie Hilton Dawe opened up his head after meeting the reef, while Wyatt Tillotson got bashed in the face from a swinging water housing. Damien Hobgood came in after 20 minutes and put it best: “There’s some days when you can handle the crowd, and others when you just get disgusted. This is one of those ‘disgusted’ days.”NIGHTLIFE: We stumbled upon a few smaller gatherings this week: Healey’s birthday, SURFING Mag’s Pete Frieden’s Bounty Hunters premiere. . .but for the true socialite, there were three major bashes to attend: one for the legends, one for the kids and one for the WCT maniacs.First, the legends: The 18th Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau ceremony was another emotional affair, kicking off with kahu Billy Mitchell’s offering to the heavens: “This year, we’re going to pray for 25-foot surf,” he said. “And glassy. Not to conquer it, but to become one with it.” Most of this year’s lineup was there, including new and deserving invitees Mark Healey and Makua Rothman. “New meat!” said Darrick Doerner. “That’s good. That’s really good.” The only invitee who attended but didn’t paddle out had a very good excuse. Laird Hamilton, over from Maui, showed up cradling his seven-week-old daughter, Reece. Now with two daughters, Laird seemed relieved to continue his protective — rather than pushy — parenting. “I’m glad I have girls,” he said. “They’re more fun to hang out with. Besides, they’re my two little angels. If I had boys, I’m afraid I’d put too much pressure on ’em.” You think?Next, the kids: the 27th annual “Surf Night” took place at Sunset Elementary, something guys like Kalani Robb and Pancho Sullivan hit up before they had 30-board quivers for free. This year, among the truckloads of prizes given out by every cool company in the surf industry, were four killer new blades by John Carper Hawaii — and the necessary goods for the packed school auditorium of crazed futureKalanis, Panchos and, who knows, maybe even a Kelly? And just to make sure, Kelly, Andy and Dorian among others were there to give ‘um away.And finally, the legends. We’re not sure if this was coordinated or not, but Friday night at Lei Leis turned into a massive cultural clash of ‘CT revelers. In one corner (and hanging off the bar), the entire Aussie contingent turned up to celebrate Jake Paterson’s Rip Curl Cup win. They sang pub songs. They drenched Snake in alcohol. They settled a bet with mate Luke Hitchings (see crazy fricken’ anecdote) and cheered when Joel Parkinson proposed to his pregnant girlfriend, Monica.They even cheered when Kelly Slater entered the joint with girlfriend Lisa Ann, and cheered for Andy Irons and his entourage when they sat down. It was a happy night for both winners and losers, and when it all cleared at around 11, you knew someone was getting leileid.CRAZY FRICKEN’ ANECDOTE: Now, about that bet: a few weeks ago, Luke Hitchings and Mick Fanning chose opposing sides for an Aussie footie match. The loser, they agreed, would have to wear a mullet and a handlebar mustache at the Pipe event. Hitcho lost, so, up until Friday, he’d been letting his hair down. That all ended, though, when someone — we’re not sure who — decided to bring clippers to Lei Leis. Alcohol combined with hair-cutting devices are never a good thing, and by the end of the night, Hitch had the full, monk-style tonsure: bald on top, mudflap in back. And that’s what he’ll be sporting at Pipe. As roomie Hans Hagen says, “He looks like Danny Devito.” — Evan Slater