CJ Hobgood Wins The O’Neill World Cup of Surfing At Sunset Beach

There were no qualifying heroics today. No Cinderella stories with last-minute bombs that produce a Top 45 Golden Ticket. You can never depend on Sunset to do that. But you can depend on it to produce some serious "chicken skin," which is exactly what it did today in the final, as light-offshore, 12-foot-plus peaks stacked to the horizon. And in the dying minutes, we watched in awe as {{{CJ}}} Hobgood, the lone goofyfoot of the final, positioned himself perfectly for the wave of the day, dropped beyond vertical a la Munga Barry in 1994, then bottom turned for a massive arc, an 8.5, a standing O from the crowd, and the win. "You never know what you need or where you are in the heat out there," said CJ, who became the first goofyfoot to win at Sunset since Mike Rommelse in 1997. "It was, like, 'Bro, you ripped out there. No, bro you ripped out there.' We all thought the other guys killed it."

But in an otherwise ho-hum final, it was this one wave that set Ceej apart from everyone else (except maybe his brother, who they announced as the winner on the stage.) Truth be told, Hobgood was long odds to win this one. Jordy Smith was on an absolute tear all day, showing off the new diet/workout program he's on courtesy of O'Neill's Garth Tarlow. In his Quarterfinal heat against Joel Parkinson, Bede Durbidge and Kamalei Alexander, Smith surfed Sunset as well as it's been ever surfed. Sorry. I just said that. Yes, even better than my childhood hero Kong and better than all those other guys I won't name. On one wave today, he stalled from the takeoff for a full draining pit out the back to a series of carves and layback hacks that made 10-foot Sunset look like fun, bouncy wedge at New Pier. I was starting to believe his Sunset karma was seriously working and he was destined to win the final. Two days before that, he even got the nod from the Hawaiian establishment when he offered his board to Sunny Garcia in the dying minutes of their heat after Sunny broke his. Smith, way ahead in the heat, took off his leash, pushed his board to Sunny, and swam in. That's the kind of gesture that will put you in synch with Sunset. And it did for Jordy - that is, until the final.

Besides Smith, the other two finalists could have easily taken it as well. Local Marcus Hickman had Makua Rothman, Kala Alexander and a lifetime of knowledge on his side, and he'd been systematically dismantling every heat since Round One. A few feet wider on a couple of the big, offshore bombs he caught, and this could be a different story. Tom Whitaker, on the other hand, was the man to beat for most of the final. Kind of the "under the radar Parko," his oil-smooth style fit seamlessly with Sunset's unforgiving walls today. And his impeccable wave selection was straight out of the Jake Paterson playbook. With four minutes left, it all looked like there'd be another victory celebration at the Oakley house.

But in a day of disappointments, it wasn't to be for Whitaker. Don't feel bad, for him, though. He ripped and got second. You can feel bad for a couple of our qualifying hopefuls. In particular, Patrick Gudauskas and Yadin Nicol. Pat needed a quarterfinal finish to make the cut today, and Yadin needed a finals berth. Both looked like they were on their way to pulling it off. In the dying minutes of Gudauskas's heat, he needed a 6.77. He found a huge, perfect looking, 10-foot set, laid into a massive bottom turn...and watched in horror as the whole thing went fat on him. He did his best and surfed it as well as he could have, but it didn't net him more than a 6. Is he freaking out that his entire year - that all those hours and miles on the qualifying tour - came down to one, warbly Inside Bowl at Sunset Beach. "One more turn would have done it," said Pat at Foodland tonight as he held two Budweiser 24-ounce cans. "But I'm not dwelling on that right now. It's all good times tonight."

Yadin fell into a similar scenario in his quarter, needing a 4.0 and coming one closeout barrel shy of advancement. The result: Dusty Payne squeaked through that one and maintains the lead in the {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown ratings - which means we'll definitely be seeing the Maui shredder at Pipe. "I'm not letting this result get to me," said Yadin, who won the Nose Guard Rookie of the Year with his performance. "There are so many other contests I'm dwelling on right now where I should have made one more heat."

With the qualifying dramas out of the way, it all came down to the ocean again, and the awe-inspiring, 12-foot bluebirds stacked to the horizon. We didn't expect CJ to win, but then again, considering the year he's having, considering his right-hand man in the channel, Chris Gallagher, his daughter Genevieve and Mom on the beach, considering his wins in Mundaka and the ISA World Games, the 2001 world champ has been nothing but a closer this year. "This is right there with any world tour win," said Hobgood. "Considering what's required out here, the effort and the luck and the perseverance, it's a huge highlight for every surfer who's won it."

CJ’s bomb in the final

2009 qualifiers through the WQS:
The following QS surfers have all qualified for the 2009 World Tour (WT): Nathaniel Curran (USA), Chris Davidson (AUS), Michel Bourez (PYF), Gabe Kling (USA), Jihad Khodr (BRA), Josh Kerr (AUS), Nic Muscroft (AUS), David Weare (ZAF), Kekoa Bacalso (HAW), Tim Boal (FRA), Greg Emslie (ZAF), Dustin Barca (HAW), Tiago Pires (BRA), Phillip MacDonald (AUS), and Drew Courtney (AUS). Depending on Tiago Pires' performance at the Billabong Pipeline Masters, Marlon Lipke (DEU) may qualify for the 2009 World Tour.

1.CJ Hobgood
2.Tom Whitaker
3.Marcus Hickman
4.Jordy Smith
=5.Dusty Payne, Joel Parkinson
=7. Ian Walsh, Mick Fanning