It was a week like a gathering storm, marked by an electric calm, bent to its snapping point, and teetering on the very verge of something. Anything. The rain bursts. Then the sun bursts. Spurts of swell. Gusts of wind. Everybody knows it’s all coming to an end over here, if only it would just begin. Each day begins with the same question: is it on? At 8 a.m. contest organizers decide to decide at 9. At 9 the decision is to decide at 10. At 10 they call it off, forecasting a 50/50 chance of starting the competition tomorrow. 50/50? What does that mean? Pros and bros alike lose their day in a state of 50/50 induced half-and-half-ness. Is the surf too big? Too small? Is it blown out? Is the wind dying? Getting better? Worse? Rumors of swell circulate like, well, rumors of swell. Everyone glued to the weather channel. Long silences. Backgammon. And, as one journalist put it, there’s a lot of people drinking light beer this year.

ARRIVALS: Who could possibly arrive? Everyone’s already here. A few non-‘CTers like Dino Andino and Keith Malloy came in to join the group that includes “everybody,” while plenty of industry legends like Herbie Fletcher, Peter Townend, and Sean Collins turned up to hurry-up-and-wait for the best title showdown in years.

DEPARTURES: Leave? Now? How could you? But a few hopeless hopefuls like an injured {{{CJ}}} Hobgood and a frustrated Chris Ward gave up and headed home early in the week. A broken toed Mick Campbell collected his contest jersey (and hence, his check), turned it immediately over to a hungry-looking Marcus Hickman (who subsequently scored a perfect 10 in his trials heat), and headed home. Later on, as the trials and contest got underway, others with shattered hopes from early eliminations or shattered nerves from funked-out weather would slip quietly, discretely off the island. Taj Burrow, Ben Bourgeois, Darren O’Rafferty, Rob Machado, Heath Walker, Joel Tudor, Pete Mendia, Otto Flores, Rusty Long, Shane Powell and Veronica Kay: all gone without a trace. For them, the end is over. Some may even envy their position, and the sweet comforts of home sweet home. But for most, the end is just beginning.

PERFORMANCES: Thursday’s swell brought contest hopes to an all-time high, but with even higher winds (30 mph) blowing those hopes tumbling down the beach, pros and photogs all scurried off to make the most of some of this season’s first decent sun/swell combination. Moments of glory reared their heads up and down the beach, particularly at Sunset and Off-the-Wall, where the biggest big-name crews coalesced. At Sunset, it was the ’80s all over again, as Tommy “Gun” Carroll and Gary “Kong” Elkerton terrorized the largest sets amidst a frenzied crew of takers. At Off-the-Wall, Nathan Fletcher took all the waves nobody else wanted, turning ugly closeouts into ledging skateparks where he unleashed his demented array of mutant slides and drifter airs before being swallowed alive on the inside. Mick “Commitment” Fanning paddled out at half-hour intervals to snatch a few waves (is it pure dedication, or just too much Red Bull?), while Damien Hobgood, Dean Morrison, and Dustin Cuizon held down the fort with the longer, workhorse sessions. Pipeline and Backdoor were fickle at best, but with the weight of the impending competition they were heavily surfed despite their grumpy moods.Pancho Sullivan and Tamayo Perry led the charge with a morning full of strong, classic rides. The ambidextrous Jaime O’Brien, who literally calls Pipe home, demonstrated a playful authority throughout his massive wave-count, often dropping in regularfoot and emerging from his tube-ride surfing goofyfoot. Bruce Irons, on the other hand, demonstrated his mastery in an entirely different manner. It was as if, at varying points in the day, he’d pause his video game, let one of the Volcom groms wax his board, paddle casually out to the break, instantly score the wave of the session, tear it to shreds, and then return directly to his high-scoring game of Super Mario Brothers. Pure mysto nuevo.

INJURIES: Poor Nick. His first day here and SURFING’s own Nick Carroll, just taking a playful swim at a not-so-playful Off-The-Wall, took a nasty face-plant on the reef. 17 stitches and a whole-lot-prettier later, Carroll looked in the mirror and exclaimed, “Yargh, at least I won’t need any tattoos now.” Then he and his brother Tom sat around comparing their impressive catalogues of North Shore facial reef scars.

WEIRDNESS: By now you’ve surely heard about Luke Hitchings’ Fanning-induced mullet/moustache combo, but after a full week of the look Hitcho actually seems to be enjoying it. Even creepier is the thought of the mohawked Hawaiians (and faux hawked Taylor Knox) wondering if maybe they got the wrong cut. Is it hairstyle year on the North Shore or what? And who would have guessed the Volcom House would turn into surfing’s next boot camp. Kai “Kai-Borg” Garcia apparently has the boys all doing push-ups, beach sprints, guerilla crawls, and ju-jitsu sessions. The chirp of video gaming at the Volcom House has suddenly been replaced by the smack of the punching bag; at least, for the dedicated ones, that is. Word has it some of the California boys are a little freaked out by the scene, and have stopped dropping by the house altogether. Meanwhile, amidst the notoriously heavy Pipeline line-up, with everyone out warming up for the contest with square-jawed seriousity, a serene-looking Kelly Slater is out bodysurfing the quarterbowl. The white knight of surfing has never looked so calm and relaxed. And his few brief surfing appearances have had photographers frothing at the mouth to set up their tripods before he scores the barrel of the day and disappears again. And speaking of frothing photogs, last time Andy Irons crossed the beach for one of his daily sessions, no less than 14 lensmen went scurrying after. Let’s hope at least one of them got the shot.

NIGHTLIFE: Haleiwa’s Breaker’s Bar has definitely been the place to see and be seen, with events like the Kalani’s Closet fashion show (complete with a mid-bar catwalk and Kalani Robb on the mic), and the Jason Bogle Benefit and “Union Blue Project” video release. Bogle’s benefit was preceded that afternoon by the DVS and Alpine Stars freestyle motocross demo (read: backflips on dirt bikes), featuring punk band ASG and plenty of Budwieser, and was well attended by surfers such as Danny Fuller, Kala Alexander and Rory Parker. On a more low-profile level, surfing ringmaster Peter King organized an acoustic concert by the notorious White Buffalo at the Oakley House, which eventually devolved into PK dusting off some Social D and TSOL covers while Dingo and The Hobgoods sang back-up. {{{Dakota}}} lives!

ONWARDS: By Friday morning the dam of expectation broke and all eyes were on the trials and opening rounds of the Gerry Lopez XBox Pipe Masters event. The collective North Shore seemed relieved to be reminded exactly what all this hub-bub and schwick-shwack was about, as a few thousand spectators watched their favorite surfers unleash hell on some heavenly tubes for two full days.

And OK, by Sunday (well, make that Saturday afternoon) the swell was back under the threshold and everything returned to hurry-up-and-wait mode. But that’s life on the North Shore for ya. And with rumors of good-sized swell circulating for mid-next week, and waves enough to keep folks semi-sane in the meantime, it’s more light beer and anticipation for everyone over here. — Nathan Myers