O’Neill World Cup of Surfing: Day 4

HEATS HELD: Half of Round of 64
CONDITIONS: Tough, mixed-up 15-20 footers out at Sunset
NATURE'S CALL: Who's your daddy?
PREDICTIONS: More big waves a-comin'

"Today's just a challenge against the ocean," said a winded Nic Muscroft after winning his early morning heat. "Any bigger and it would be closing out. As it is, it's pretty hard out there." Sitting at Number 20 on the WQS, Nic needs to keep winning heats here at Sunset if he wants to make next year's World Tour.

But he's not the only one. WCTers David Weare, Troy Brooks, Shaun Cansdell, Kirk Flintoff and Neco Padaratz all need a big result at Sunset (or a final at Pipe) to re-qualify for next year's Big Show. Tough odds. And a tough day for tough odds. But this is it: last chance. It's Career Day on the North Shore, and Sunset is conducting interviews in a drunk and disorderly manner. Tactics are everything now. With a crossed-up 15-20 foot rising swell, The Point is too deep, The Bowl is not deep enough; the north waves are too soft, the west ones are too hard; and the clean-up sets are just plain scary. So, all you can do is position yourself somewhere in the middle of it all and pray the contest gods are smiling on you.

"It's all about earning your money today," says local charger Liam McNamara. "I don't care what your name is, if you're out of position on the wrong set, you're gonna get lung checked."

Dane Reynolds -- already safely qualified -- survived a heavy pounding to advance to the Round of 32. But Triple Crown points leader Roy Powers -- who qualified for the World Tour with his win at Haleiwa -- wasn't able to sneak through his heat. So, Bede Durbidge now leads the {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown ratings after making his heat today, with Adrian "Ace" Buchan close on his heels after dominating his heat with the highest scores of the day.

The deck is getting reshuffled by the powerful hands of Sunset Beach. Intense currents. Unruly sets. Oversized and a bit too consistent. Even the board caddies are earning their money today. "The less sets in your heat," explains Liam McNamara, "the more scoring potential." How's that for backwards?

Or how's this? Dustin Barca charged straight through the shorepound (a rare sight at Sunset) to pick up the 2-point score he needed to advance, only to have Jay "Bottle" Thompson follow his line and knock him right back out of the running.

Maui-boy Ian Walsh dominated a heat with his big-wave skills and a long, inside Bowl tube, while Mick Fanning managed used his pure fitness and signature hack to advance as well. At that point, though, the Kona winds and consistently huge sets were just a bit too much for the competitors, and event director Randy Rarick decided it was time to call it a day. The ocean was today's big winner, but with so much riding on this event, the surfers will definitely be back for another round. With plenty of swell on the way, they're sure to have their hands full.

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