O’Neill World Cup of Surfing: Final Day

HEATS HELD: Round of 32 to the Final
CONDITIONS: 8- to 12-foot crossed up and windy
NATURE'S CALL: Let's blow this comp
PREDICTIONS: Drunken brawls on the North Shore

The Brazilians were already starting to celebrate; screaming and jumping up in down in the competitor's tent while Leonardo Neves had the entire final virtually combo'd with less than two minutes left. The Aussie contingent were starting to grumble about it: "Someone tell them to go back to the Gold Coast," one joked. It wasn't a racist thing, really — just avid sports fans rooting for their home team in a truly international final: two Aussies, a Brazilian and a Hawaiian.

Newly-crowned world champ Mick Fanning was the odds-on favorite, for sure. All day he'd been sticking to his title-winning formula — lots of stretching, studying video replays of his heats, and pumping Tool in his headphones right before he paddled out. He'd been catching more waves than anyone and consistently dominating heats throughout the day. Cleary, the Mick Fanning show wasn't over.

Then there was Daniel Ross, who was fast proving himself as a classic Sunset surfer, with a hack straight out of Sunny Garcia's playbook. "Best turn of the event," Kai Otton screamed after one particularly immense gauge, "I just got chicken skin." Ross started the day just a few seats away from a WCT qualifying position, but with each heat, he moved closer and closer to his dream. And by the time he utterly dominated his semi-final, he'd officially qualified. He came in from that heat to a full-on Aussie celebration, all tearful shelas and stoking mates on the beach…and after one of those moments, it's hard to go back out and win a final in challenging Sunset. In his mind, he'd already won. And basically, he had. Congratulations, Daniel.

Makua Rothman made his way to the final all the way from the Round of 96. That's six stacked heats, with guys like Neco Padaratz, Cory Lopez, Bede Durbidge and Dane Reynolds all standing in his path. Throughout the comp he displayed both local knowledge and a classic Hawaiian power-surfing style. Neves started in the Round of 96, too, slipping almost unnoticed through heats with Taj Burrow, Jordy Smith, Bruce Irons and Sunny Garcia. Being a big guy, Neves style fit suited over-sized Sunset well — even doing reverses on his 7'4" gun.

The wind had been creeping up all day. But with even more wind scheduled for the next two days, the mid-day call was to push on through the contest; or as announcer Liam McNamara put it: "It's on like Donkey Kong." As the wind picked up, Donkey Kong was a pretty good analogy, actually. "So raucous out there," said Taj Burrow after losing a quarterfinal heat needing only a 3. "I reckon the chops are as big as the waves." It was definitely difficult conditions, and the guys in the final had earned their spots by dealing with it. Because that's what you do at Sunset.

But the final was turning into kind of a bummer. With just minutes left, Fanning had a couple 2s. Daniel Ross had a pair of 3s. And Makua was backing his 6.8 up with a bunch of 0.2s and 0.3s. Basically, the waves were f–ked. Big and f—ked. And the entire Brazilian contingent was dancing around and celebrating like crazy when Neves backed his 7 up with an 8. They claimed it for the cameras. They sang little chants. The girls screeched. The men held hands. It was a 1999 in Sao Paulo again.

Meanwhile, the Aussies just stuck their little flags in the sand. And the Hawaiians stood there quietly, arms crossed, staring at the sea as if they had the mana to make a set come. And maybe they did.

Makua needed a 9.01 to come back. There were just two minutes left in victory at sea conditions. But when that wave came, yyou could just feel that something special was about to happen.

Later on, up on the victory stand, Makua would claim that his friend Peter Davi — who died earlier in the day paddling into giant waves at {{{Ghost}}} Trees — sent the wave over from California. Makua hoisted his victory cup over his head, looked up to the sky and dedicated the win to his fallen comrade. But at that moment out at Sunset, well, as Makua puts it: "I saw it coming and I knew I just had to go."

Over the ledge. Down the giant face. Into the gaping, foamy tube. Out onto the bowl. A huge, side-wedge warped the section into a giant half-pipe and Makua just tore into it with a massive hack. The whole beach was going wild (uh, except the Brazilians). Bruce Irons, Dustin Barca, Kai-Borg and the rest of the Hawaiians were already making their way down the beach to chair Makua up to the victory stand. They knew he'd gotten the score already. And, of couse, he did. 9.5. But for those conditions, might as well have been a Ten. Hey, who cares anymore?

"That's was the best finish to a contest I've seen in a long time," said Kauai's Dustin Barca after chairing his friend up the beach. "Now let's go celebrate."

Sounds good.

Congratulations, Makua Kai Rothman.

[Jihad Khodr was awarded {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown Rookie of the Year; Hodei Collazo won the award for Best Barrel of the event — a ten on his borrowed competitors boards; and Haleiwa winners Roy Powers and Makua Rothman will both receive invites to the Billabong Pipeline Masters to compete for the Triple Crown.]

O’Neill World Cup of Surfing Final Results:
1st: Makua Rothman $15,000
2nd: Leonardo Neves $7,500
3rd: Mick Fanning $4,000
4th: Daniel Ross $3,000

Vans Triple Crown Rankings
1: Bede Durbidge
2. Roy Powers
3. Mick Fanning

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