What a difference a year makes. At the end of 2005, Waianae's Melanie Bartels, touted as one of the most talented women of the new millennium, was frustrated, off the World Championship Tour after one short year and wondering whether she'd ever be able to translate her radical freesurfing to competition.

That was the old Melanie Bartels.

The new Melanie knows she can, especially after today when she took out the entire field in 4- to 6-foot Sunset at the Roxy Pro. "It's a dream, just a dream," said the explosive regularfoot. "I mean, I've never even made it past the third round in a WCT."

Freshly requalified and refocused on her pro surfing career, Bartels wasn't even supposed to be in the event. But she got the eleventh-hour nod into the trials when another surfer declined the invite. Then, after finishing second to Stephanie Gilmore, she got the eleventh-hour nod into the event itself when Silvana Lima bowed out with an injury. "It was like it was meant to be," she said.

This second-to-last WCT event of the year was supposed to be a showdown between world title contenders Layne Beachley, Melanie Redman Carr and Georgeson. But when Beachley and Redman Carr both lost in the semis, it became clear who the real standouts were. As commentator Jeannie Chesser said, "Don't count out the wildcards."

On one side, you had Bartels. Westside-powered, massive cheering squad - including Mom and son - on the sand and a shotgun approach to the shifty Inside Bowl. On the other: Stephanie Gilmore, a two-time WCT winner by the age of 19, a "guarants" world title winner in 2007 according to Mick Fanning and a smooth, precise approach that had Fanning singing praises from the bleachers. "She's the only girl doing proper turns," he said of his fellow Snapper Rocks surfer. Four-time world champ Lisa Andersen was blown away by both of them and said if Melanie could get her competitive head together, she and Stephanie would be dueling for the crown for years to come.

Perhaps the final was just a glimpse of it. With Georgeson and Ballard in a combo situation, Gilmore enjoyed a comfortable lead over Bartels after lacing together a handful of even-flow carves. And just when her countrywomen started unfolding the Aussie flag, Bartels struck with just seconds remaining: a medium Inside wedge, a Makaha-special power carve and tube to bring it on home. The score she needed: 6.8. The score she got: 7.5. "I'm just here to put the Westside on the map," she said. "I mean, I'm from the Westside. We don't have much over there. To get paid to travel the world and just doesn't get any better."


Kelly Slater's been looking for an effective strategy at Sunset, and he just might have found it: sleep in. The eight-time world champ was still snoozing off a big night on stage with Pearl Jam at Waimea Falls this morning just minutes before his heat hit the water. With a few wake-up emergency calls and a fire drill, Kelly made it out the back a good six minutes into his heat. Pancho Sullivan fell, Ola Eleogram sat out the back and Nathan Carroll had an uncharacteristic shocker. And with just seven total points, Kelly found himself the heat-winner and relieved his rude awakening wasn't for nothing. Andy almost had a rude awakening of a different sort when he sat way up the point, with a minute remaining, needing a 7.8 to advance (keep in mind no one was getting 7s at this point). Out of nowhere he takes off behind the peak, stuffs himself in a mystery pit, and muscles out of it for an 8.5. "I said there was no way I was losing in that heat," he said. "I used to be able to will stuff to happen out there. I guess I still can." Other big advancements: California's Alex Gray, looking like a solid veteran after only two years on tour. And Mick Fanning saved the best for the last heat when he racked up a 9.5 and 8 - the second highest combined total of the contest. "I wasn't trying that hard," he said when he was told to save some for the final day. "The waves were just too easy."

[Special thanks to Tradewinds U Drive car rentals.]