2005 O’Neill World Cup Of Surfing / Triple Crown Event # 2: Day 1 at Sunset Beach

SURF: 6 to 8 feet, clean, and just daring you to pull in
EVENTS HELD: Mens Round of 162, 144 and 132 (heats 1-8)
NATURE'S CALL: Don't tell me when I'm gonna turn onshore
PREDICTION: Does anyone have a calculator? I need to check this ratings sheet

Guess what? The World Qualifying Series is in its final lap. That grueling, 41-event merry-go-round that sends some to the asylum and others into the Promised Tour. And what better place to end this year of trials and airs at Sunset Beach – the ultimate test in endurance, skill and wave knowledge? You think the beachbreaks in {{{Rio}}} are hard to figure out? Try paddling out to that shifting, clamping centuries-old righthander that still has the cagiest veterans singing the lost-at-sea blues. And when you add the pressure of high-stakes qualifying points and at a dirty dozen of North Shore assassins in the mix, things are bound to get aggressive.

Which is what happened today as the most of the local boys predictably dominated, some of the visitors stayed on pace and the rest of the competitors wished they had Mapquest to get them to the next round. And all this in conditions that would be described as ideal for Sunset: 6 to 8 feet, light winds, a north/northwest combo that had the Inside Bowl alive and jacking, and plenty of waves. That is, if you knew where to sit for 'em.

Just ask California's Alex Gray, who did everything right in preparing for his Round of 132 heat. He warmed up on his 6'10" at Pupukea. Sat down the beach listening to his Ipod, timed the sets and decided on a strategy. Then he went out and simply could not find a single decent wave. "I don't know what happened," he said of his fifth-place result. "I was totally lost out there."

Don't feel bad, Alex. This is only your second year on tour. Start worrying when you say this after your fifteenth year on tour. Believe us: it happens.

Meanwhile, in the same heat, Aussie Dan Ross – the new Margo – connected on a {{{mid-size}}} slingshot with two man carves and a heaving cavern for a 9.9 – the day's highest score. Sunset, like everywhere else on the North Shore, giveths and takeths away.

Other guys who gorged themselves: Sunset-from-birther Makua Rothman, who powered through three heats today with a relentless Inside Bowl attack and the highest heat score of the day. "Kinda shelfing out there today," said Makua, who also happened to nab the gem of the day at Backdoor yesterday.

Nathan Carroll, who topped a stacked locals-only heat including Myles Padaca, Jamie O'Brien, Mikala Jones and Hank Gaskell. "It's so tough out there when everyone knows where to sit," said Nathan. "It's like a 60-man heat instead of six. But I got lucky."

Luck: everyone begs for it at Sunset. The only problem is, there'll never be enough to go around. – Evan Slater/SURFING Magazine

Conditions are questionable for the weekend with a dropping swell and possible Kona conditions. But if it is indeed on, the inaugural women's O'Neill World Cup of Surfing "Sunset Challenge" will be sent out. Although it does not count as a qualifier or 'CT, all the big guns will be competing, including six-time world champ Layne Beachley, current world champ Sofia Mulanovich and possible world-champ-to-be Chelsea Georgeson.

If the Men are back in the mix, look for Americans like Gabe Kling, Ben Bourgeois and Brett Simpson to chuck themselves over the ledge in hopes of qualifying. As you've seen from Pancho Sullivan's giant leap for power-surfer-kind at Haleiwa, big things can happen in these last, crucial qualifying events.