A Bugs Eye View

Having entered the official waiting period for the Billabong Pipeline Masters, and with the girls hunkered down on Maui awaiting the commencement of the Billabong Pro Maui, it is timely to reflect on a phenomenal {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown of Surfing.

With Stephanie Gilmore wrapping up the ASP Women's World Title by winning last week's Roxy Pro Hawaii, and of course Kelly's 9th crown safely tucked away in the vault, the focus now moves to contending for the coveted ASP World runner-up and winning the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.

Wow, as though it needs to be re-iterated, but the O'Neill World Cup once again highlighted the fact that Oahu's North Shore is the world's premier big wave location. Sunset Beach reminded everyone that it remains peerless as the ultimate proving ground, confronting the World Cup field with challenge after mighty challenge. It was very clear over the first four days of competition that the last man standing in the O'Neill would be undisputed champion for 2008.

Hats off to all four finalists: C.J. Hobgood, Tom Whitaker, Marcus Hickman and Jordy Smith battled through unrelenting power to advance to the championship decider and deserve hearty praise for their collective effort. Individually, they all took different paths to the same meeting point. O'Neill World Cup champion C.J. Hobgood kind of used stealth to reach the Final, surfing intelligently to survive the wild and woolly stuff then stand tall in the Final, his quest for greatness guided masterfully by coach, caddy and handler, former Dream Tour surfer and North Shore resident Chris Gallagher.

On the humongous day, when the Sunset arena was bombarded by set after set of 15'-25' faces, Jordy Smith and Tom Whitaker took centre stage, Smith coming into his own, he definitely went out there with intentions to surf hard. After carving his way to certain victory Jordy then magnanimously offered former ASP World Champion Sunny Garcia the use of his thicker board. Sunny had impressed early with a 9-point ride but was struggling late under the weight of pounding sets. In the end, the great Hawaiian warrior failed to get the required wave and upon leaving the water, fully aware that his quest for re-qualification to the Dream Tour had fallen painfully short, Garcia lavished praise on the young guns who had risen to the challenge on this heaviest of days, then spoke of getting both knees operated on before committing his soon-to-be 39-year-old body on the '09 ASP WQS.

That was impressive. So was Tom Whitaker's tuberiding display on this giant day. At any size, Sunset hurts when the lip slaps you on trying to emerge from the bowels of the barrel. On this day, the place throttled anyone caught in the act of escape, but this did not deter the Bronte basher from committing deep. Sunset Beach's Marcus Hickman, along with Jordy Smith, looked the man to beat on the epic final day. Caddied by none other then defending O'Neill World Cup champion Makuakai Rothman, who had bowed out of contention, Hickman laid down a command performance.

To reach the Final, Marcus Hickman had to overcome some pretty staunch competition. Amazingly, two of the most outrageous performers along the route were Hawaii's junior sensations Dusty Payne and Torrey Meister. Wow, do these kids have some game. They both impressed greatly, surfing smart on the huge days, blasting massive snaps on heaving bowls, laying into perfectly executed roundhouse cutties on the more friendly sections, basically surfing well beyond their years. As a reward for his Vans Triple Crown pole position after Haleiwa and Sunset, Dusty Payne now finds himself in the Billabong Pipeline Masters.

Back to Marcus Hickman though, this local kid put in a giant-killing effort, coming up with required scores under immense late heat pressure time and time again. In the Final, he got away to a brilliant start, posting a keeper straight up, and he threatened to blow up at any moment, however events, including epic rides by Hobgood and Whittaker, conspired against Hickman for total victory. Paddling out for the finale, most money would have been on South African wunderkind Jordy Smith.

Smith was in devastating form throughout the event, but he kept his best for the final day, wailing through every round, toying with the west peak, carving huge slabs on the inside bowl, pulling into backdoor sections at will. Then disaster struck, Smith doing the involuntary splits on his opening ride. He spent 10 minutes swimming with a thought to be hip injury, then it was realized that in fact a major knee injury had been incurred. It was such a bummer of a way to conclude an outstanding campaign, but that's Sunset.

Fantastic victory for C.J., the Floridian surging back into the ASP World Top 5 in the major league rankings, then clinching a major title at the storied Sunset Beach, converting a solid North Shore campaign into Triple Crown calculations. It was total vindication. I {{{recall}}} handing C.J. Hobgood the ASP World Champions trophy at Sunset Beach in 2001. There had been seven contenders going into the final event of a season shortened by the tragedy of 9/11. C.J. was the last man standing and he kind of sheepishly gave a victory speech. The other day at Sunset he was the last man standing after arguably the most challenging, the most magnificient World Cup in history

Now that's true greatness, an awesome sporting achievement that ranks with the best sports stories of the year.

An exciting format awaits all in the 08 Billabong Pipeline Masters. three seeded rounds of competition pits the best of the best against each other in dual heat format. The opening exchanges see the creme of the local Pipe specialists going head to head with the back-end tour regulars, with a solid smattering of event and Triple Crown wildcards.

Shane Dorian returns to competition on Day 1, taking on South African goofy footer Royden Bryson, former Pipe Master Mark Occhilupo, in his testimonial Triple Crown series, comes up against {{{Rocky}}} point local Daniel Jones, followed by a host of ridiculously well matched clashes. There will be sentimental value in Danny Wills swansong event, the Byron Bay local meets the in-form Kamalei Alexander, while newly qualified Kauai pro Dustin Barca can expect a torrid exchange with Hawaii's I an walsh in Ht 7.

Teen sensations Torrey meister and Dusty Payne meet Jay Thompson and Aritz Aranburu, while the allHawaiian clash between Makuakai Rothman and Ola Eleogram will generate plenty of interest. Another super exciting match-up pits new kid on the Dream Tour Kekoa Bacalso against the new king of Pipe Jamie O'Brien. There are so many great heats, the Billabong Pipeline Masters will be exciting from start to finish, and of course the big guns, Kelly, Andy, Bede, Joel, Taj, Parko and {{{CJ}}} are waiting in Rd 3. Mick Fanning will be contesting his final event before officially handing his crown over to World Champion elect Kelly Slater, and local stars Fred pattachia, Pancho Sullivan, Bruce Irons and Roy Powers are strategically concealed at ambush points within the draw.

We are in for a ripper event. Good luck to all at Pipe and good luck to all Vans Triple Crown aspirants on Maui.

Good luck to everyone still in.

For more on the ASP, the Billabong Pro Maui, and the Billabong Pipeline Masters, visit www.ASPWorldTour.com