Rounds of 144 and 132 completed in picture-perfect Sunset.

Sunset Beach was on her best behavior yesterday. Instead of its trademark nasty trades blowing lightweights out the back and voodoo chops wreaking havoc on the Inside Bowl, we saw light, easterly trades, sunny skies and — best of all — crisp, clean 6- to 8-foot west/northwest swell pouring it on throughout the day. As {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown director Randy Rarick said, “It’s a rare day when solid Sunset looks like, some perfect, 3-foot reefbreak in Indo.”

With conditions like this, surfers had to run high on performance and low on excuses. This was as level a playing field as Sunset ever gets, and unless you missed your heat due to the fatal pre-dawn car accident near Shark’s Cove (as Ross Williams did, but then got into a later heat), you had no one to blame but yourself.

All pressure aside, most of the favorites prevailed in these earlygoing rounds. The only real disappointment was seeing three-time world champ Tom Curren lose first heat, which means he remains the greatest surfer ever to not win at Sunset. Tom’s apprentice and caddy for the heat, Kelly Slater, was shattered as he watched from the channel. “He surfs the wave better than anyone when he gets one,” said Kelly. “But he just won’t hassle. It was driving me crazy.”

Other guys going crazy: local boy Raymond “Monk” Reichele, who threw three, big horseshoes on a solid, 8-foot wave for a 9.5 — the highest score of the day. South African and 2005 WCTer Travis Logie also had the young Hawaiian peanut gallery “oooohhhh”ing with a backside hook that’d win top honors at the School of Oc. And then there was Jamie O’Brien — sidelined the last two weeks due to a sprained knee. Sweating and eggy on the beach, showing up just to see what he was missing. Bringing his board along just in case. Checking in and paddling out just to go through the motions…then sliding into two of the better barrels of the morning and racking up the day’s highest score — 16.66. “My knee still kinds hurts,” he said. “But it just looked too easy. I had to give it a go.”

Like we said, Sunset was good to us yesterday.


ROUND OF 96: let the qualifying scramble begin.

The first two rounds had little impact on the year-end battle for WCT qualification. Besides Ben Bourgeois, who won his Round of 132 heat and needs at least a semifinal finish to give himself a shot, no Americans had their careers in the balance today. Ben says he isn’t even looking at the ratings or what he needs to do. Keep an eye on him, though. Because we have a hunch he may be sneaking peeks. From abroad, Brazilians Bernardo Pigmeu and Fabio Gouveia are hoping Sunset will take them to the Promised Tour, so you know they’ll be pushing hard.

The Round of 96 is when the real qualifying games begin with a handful of high-teens-and-twenties-rated surfers scrambling for their futures. Guys like Danilo Costa, Renan Rocha, Adrian Buchan and Shaun Cansdell — along with the soldiers we mentioned above — will be the ones with hunger in their eyes.

The only problem is, they have to get through a whole line of Hawaiian heavies young and old. Marcus Hickman (Heat One) will likely continue his tear on his “secret” 6’10”, Vans Hawaiian Pro quarterfinalist Nathan Carroll (Heat Three) surfs Sunset better than he surfs Haleiwa and you can never forget five-time Triple Crown champ and Vans Hawaiian Pro winner Sunny Garcia: the guy who skipped Brazil and boldly said: “I’m going to own the Triple Crown this year.”

He’ll be taking on all challengers in Heat Four.

Look for fading, but still fairly solid surf, on Saturday. The morning will bring sets running several feet overhead. Our next swell out of the NW (305-320) will arrive by Monday (with some long period energy likely by late Sunday afternoon) with another round of overhead to double overhead surf at most spots and bigger sets at best breaks. Another, similar sized NW swell is possible by Thursday. Stay tuned.