2005 O’Neill World Cup Of Surfing / Triple Crown Event # 2: Day 3 at Sunset Beach

SURF: 6 to 10 feet, north, and clampy
EVENTS HELD: Men's Round of 64
NATURE'S CALL: I'm doing this without trying
PREDICTED: A Pancho Sullivan Triple Crown

And then there were four. Going into today's Round of 64, we had at least seven qualifying warriors convincing themselves they could actually do this. Sure, it was a longshot, but Sunset had been so good to them so far. Why would she have any reason to turn on them?

As they soon found out, this large chunk of unforgiving reef can be your best friend one day and won't even know you the next. Just ask local Makua Rothman, the early rounds Golden Boy, who could only come up with a total heat score of 4.73 today. Or a handful of guys who have (make that had) one foot in the WCT door, guys like Leonardo Neves, Ben Bourgeois and Brett Simpson. They all needed big results in this O'Neill World Cup to qualify – and they all went down today. Sorry, door closed.

It was especially hard for Brett Simpson, who beamed with confidence after his big Haleiwa result. It looked good for him today, as well: he'd already powered through two rounds and his boss, Hurley marketing guy Pat O'Connell, was in the heat with him. So, all he had to do was beat one guy, right? Wrong. "Everybody thinks I'm gonna roll over for Brett," says Pat. "But you know me, dude. I can't do that. I'm gonna f–k with him"[laughs]

Pat was just kidding, of course. But maybe he wasn't. Pat advanced, and Brett didn't.

Three-time world champ and reigning event winner Andy Irons almost suffered a similar fate in Heat 8, until he finally convinced Sunset – with 30 seconds remaining – that he still loved her. Things started off a little shaky for Kauai's powerhouse. He bobbled on his first big bomb just after Darren O'Rafferty and Richie Lovett kicked it off with solid 7s and 8s. A few more clampdowns, an escape with the spit for a 7.5 and – as the heat wound down, he sat out the back needing a 5.0. With less than a minute remaining, it came – a soft 6-footer at the top of the point. He took off, bobbled again on a little foam climb – but then locked in and waited for the double up across the inside. One pump, two pumps…Boom! Turn of the event. "Yeah AI!" screamed Kainoa McGee, who also advanced to the Round of 32. "Way to do us proud."

On the beach, Andy looked a little rattled but relieved. "Woah, it's my first time surfing here all year, so I better get back out there and practice. It's always all or nothing out here."

He's got that right. Four surfers – Queensland's Jay "Bottle" Thompson, Florida's Gabe Kling, Aussie Beau Mitchell, and Manly's Jarrad Howse – will compete next year in places like perfect Snapper, bombing Teahupoo and draining Cloudbreak if they make the final. If they don't, it's another long, hard year of 2-foot beachbreaks. All or nothing.

The surf tap's hardly turned off since the beginning of the waiting period, and there's no signs of drought. This extreme north swell will be on the way down tomorrow, but chances are there'll be enough for the Women's O'Neill Sunset Challenge, which will feature Layne "Sunset" Beachley and all the rest of the Bowl-bound ladies.

When the Men pick up where they left off, look for the North Shore's pride and joy, Pancho Sullivan cruise his way to another big result. Pancho's performance was effortless today: plenty of waves, big, man carves, perfectly timed tube stalls. Now that the pressure's off and he's floating on Cloud WCT, we get to really watch him shine. As the three-part sign on Kam Highway reads: "Pancho…1st!!!….Whaaaaat?!!?"