{{{Eight}}}-time world champion Kelly Slater (Florida, USA), world #2 Mick Fanning (Queensland, Australia), former world champion Andy Irons (Kauai, Hawaii), and world #6 Joel Parkinson (Queensland, Australia) head the final field of 16 surfers remaining in the $125,000 6-star O'Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach. The remaining seven heats of this, the second of three events making up the men's {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown of Surfing, will take place tomorrow morning in what is anticipated to be extra large (approximately 15-feet) surf.

While Slater and his tour-seasoned cohorts command the limelight, darkhorses like O'Neill's wildcard entry of Ian Walsh, and 18-year-old South African rookie Jordy Smith are proving to be legitimate contenders for this title. Walsh, from Kuau, Maui, posted one of the highest scores of the day in his heat with Parkinson, Patrick Gudauskas (USA), and Odirlei Coutinho (Brazil) – 14.03 out of a possible 20 with top wave scores of 7.53 and 6.5. Walsh will take on world #10 Dean Morrison (Queensland, Australia), world #14 and Sunset Beach local Fred Patacchia, and Coutinho in the second quarter final heat tomorrow.

“It helps to be surfing in an O'Neill contest, but for me it's more about doing well at home,” said Walsh, 23. “I've been surfing Sunset since I was 12 years old. I'd almost consider it a second home. It's definitely one of my favorite waves in the world.” Walsh has tasted success at Sunset Beach before, winning a 4-star event here a little more than a year ago, but has not been a competitor on the world tour this year. He hasn't wasted a moment of opportunity by way of his sponsor's wildcard during this event.

Without doubt, the most high-profile heat of the quarter finals will be the match-up between Slater, Sunset Beach local Pancho Sullivan, young Australian surfer Jay Thompson (24, Queensland), and the event's highest heat scorer so far, Joel Parkinson. Parkinson posted a whopping total of 17.8 points out of 20 today in his heat with Walsh, registering scores of 9.8 and 8.0 points. In contrast, Slater posted 11.67 points in his heat today, placing second to Odirlei Coutinho to advance out of their four-man heat.

Being that tomorrow is the final day of the official holding period for the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing, competition must go on regardless. But as good fortune would have it, the biggest swell of the winter to-date is scheduled to arrive in the early morning, allowing the O'Neill World Cup to wrap up before the extra-large swell reaches unrideable proportions of around 20 feet. Sunset Beach is not rideable once waves grow in excess of 15- to 18-feet.

[Special thanks to Tradewinds U Drive car rentals.]