GATOR STOMP: CJ Hobgood leads an all-Florida final to victory for the 2007 O’Neill Sebastian Inlet Pro

Conditions: Chest to head-high, chunky and windblown
Events held: Round of 32 to final
Nature's Call: Hey, at least I didn't go flat.
Predicted: Surf {{{Expo}}} parties to rival the U. of Florida football celebration.

The '07 SI Pro was more than a Florida event. For every 'CT talent like Damien Hobgood there was a Roy Powers or Mickey Picon. For every freesurfing aerial freak like Aaron Cormican there was equally twisted Dane Reynolds. And for each Junior phenom like Eric Geiselman there was a Clay Marzo. So why did the final, once again, come down to four surfers from the Sunshine State? Well, As 2007 SI Pro Champ {{{CJ}}} Hobgood pointed out, "It's crazy. I guess it all came down to who wanted it more."

And few surfers wanted it more than CJ. His 'CT season last year was a lackluster string of so-so showings and mishaps. This contest, however, he was the clear standout. His frontside cutties were jet-powered, precise and hyper-parabolic. His backside snaps were perfectly placed depth charges. And when he had his big scores locked, he dished out a mixed bag of high-performance candy for the kids, sugary 360 airs and alley oops for the groms to gorge their eyes upon. Every heat seemed to run just for him. Except the Final. But that's what made the event's last thirty minutes also its most dramatic. With half a point separating the top 3.

HEAT OF THE EVENTThe finals. After opening with an 8.33, CJ racked up seven lackluster rides. Meanwhile, Shea Lopez, Gabe Kling and Asher Nolan came to life, with the lead changing hands at least five times. After slipping through two preceding heats in the last seconds, Shea snagged bombs and cranked four successively higher totals. On the other hand, Asher Nolan, who's nimble frontside tail whips and gouging cutties were the talk of the comp , couldn't find a back-up to his 9.33, finishing fourth despite only needing a 5.75 to win. But Gabe Kling proved most scary, connecting powerful back and forehand detonations to hold lead for the last half of the heat. Even Hobgood admitted, Kling was the clear man to beat, until he hacked one last wave to pieces to hand the '07 top 45 rookie his first taste of 'CT defeat — and nab his own first contest win of any kind in two full years. "I honestly can't describe how happy I am," he later said. "I just want it to keep motivated to the coming season."

PEFORMERS OF THE EVENTThe Junior Competitors. While you have to give Bryan Hewitson's Kong-like snaps and sheer determination due respect — especially for winning his quarter final heat after paddling out five minutes late, only to get suspiciously snipped in the semis — the young bucks were the real joy to watch this year. Nearly every Round of 32 heat had a fresh-faced upstart like Ola Eleogram or Cory Arrambide. And more than a few posted some big upsets. Eric Geiselman helped eliminate Cory Lopez in the Round of 64 ,while Tanner Gudauskas finished ahead of Damien Hobgood. And Alek Parker and Clay Marzo fished first and second in Saturday's Red Bull Tow-At. Unfortunately, the two tykes with the strongest shot — Tanner and Jeremy Johnston — couldn't outfire a veteran Quarterfinal field. But they went down swinging, making them just that more deadly the next time they step in the ring.

SHOCKERSOh, there were so many. So soon. Perennial East Coast finalists Gorkin and Kyle Garson lost out in the Round of 64. So did past champ Cory Lopez. And '06 fourth place Ben Bourgeois went from posting a 9.33 on Wednesday to dead last in his first heat this morning. But we'll split the "shocker" honors this year between Mike Losness and Daniel Jones. Jones won his quarter final heat with an 18.0, while Losness, posted a 7.5 for a single air. But come the semis, neither could muster more than a six-point score. Still, they made huge impressions on the spectators. And neither seemed too disappointed. As Jones pointed out, "I just got more points than I did all last year. And it's only a four- star."

And it's only the first contest of the year. You can bet the next 43 won't be any easier.


"They should give Dane 30 minutes," Random spectator during the Red Bull tow-at.

"These are Jeremy's [Johnston] waves." Shea Lopez watching Jeremy Johnston surf the Round of 64; Shea would later eliminate him in the quarters

"You can tell me. They were buffing me pretty hard, huh?" CJ after scoring 8-point rides in the Round of 64, surfing half as good as the later heats.

RESULTS OF THE 2007 O'NEILL SEBASTIAN INLET PROCJ HobgoodGabe KlingShea LopezAsher Nolan