Still the one: Andy Irons dominates any-size Sunset

A funny thing happened at Sunset Beach today. The winner of this year’s O’Neill World Cup of Surfing didn’t drive through a triple-thick, Inside Bowl. He didn’t hook into the North Peak saddle or air-drop a mondo West Peak.

Instead, he pigdogged a head-high left. “Straight into Boneyards,” said this year’s Sunset king and current world champ Andy Irons. “I saw Freddy get a score on one in an earlier heat, so I thought, 'Why not?'”

Staring out at the 3- to 4-foot surf limping off the point and the 20- to 25-knot trades, most people would have asked, “Why?” Why hold one of the world’s most prestigious heavy-wave events in such sub par conditions? Why pull the trigger when there’s still four days left in the waiting period? The answer, according to {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown director Randy Rarick, was simple: “A barely active ocean is much better than a flat ocean.” And with forecasts telling us a marginal new swell would arrive by Tuesday afternoon, all organizers involved said: “The show must go now.” As O’Neill’s Mark Prefontaine said, “We weren’t going to let Sunset pull a Coldwater on us.”

The decision to run today did two things: one, it forced remaining competitors into a pre-heat scramble for short enough equipment. While normal Sunset events have guys begging for a few extra inches, today’s conclusion had ’em worried about too much foam. Slater pulled out his 6’0″ diamond tail. Andy broke out his Mayhem groveler. And Mick Lowe wondered if he’d be caught overgunned. “Shit,” he said. “The shortest board I have is a 6’6″.”

It also forced competitors to utilize a whole new series of Sunset Beach sections. No need to worry about the manly zones that make the break notorious; it was time to wire kiddie corners like Vals, Knives, Shores and the Point. Guys like Andy and finalist Freddy Patacchia didn’t phase on it — they grew up surfing HASAs and NSSAs at Sunset in the tiniest of conditions. But for touring pros like Phil MacDonald, it was a side of competitive surfing he’d never seen on the North Shore. “I wouldn’t even paddle out there on a day like this,” said Phil, who’s currently leading the race for the Vans Triple Crown title. “This is definitely the smallest Sunset I’ve ever surfed.”

How did the Bizarro world conditions affect the outcome? Not much at all, really. Four accomplished Sunset veterans made the final in Irons, Mark Occhilupo, Freddy P and 2002 winner Joel Parkinson. Young locals like Nathan Carroll still had their chance to shine as he giant-killed his way to the semis. And those WQS warriors in a good position to qualify left with mission accomplished. No small-wave maestros screaming in from the back 30. No possessed performances from some enlightened madman who had to win the event to make the tour. Nope. It was just solid {{{insurance}}} policies from those who were already “in there”: a quarterfinal finish for a reborn Renan Rocha. The highest combined score of the day from semifinalist and HB’s first WCTer since Jeff Deffenbaugh: Tim Reyes. And the most impressive ‘QS quest, Freddy Patacchia, owning the fickle point surf with three of the most convincing advancements of the day. As he sipped some suds from his third-place World Cup trophy, Patacchia embraced his fellow Hawaiian WQS soldiers, those who’ve been there for his highest highs and lowest lows. “We’re gonna miss you!” said Jason Shibata.

“It’s your turn next!” countered a glassy-eyed Freddy P.

The other thing that remained the same? Andy Irons continued his campaign as the world’s most explosive and dominant surfer in any condition. Despite Occy’s impeccable timing off the warbly sections and Parko’s uncanny wave selection throughout the day, there was never any doubt who’d take this battle. There may not be much more for Andy to win, but he’s a tireless competitor, and he knew a World Cup title trophy was still missing from his mantelpiece.

By mid-heat, that trophy was his, with a multi-bash right, a hollow left to float and then the sealer: a deeper left tube straight into the shallows. “It may have looked deeper from the beach than it really was,” said Andy. “But I’ll take that one and run with it.”

1.Andy Irons
2.Mark Occhilupo
3.Fred Patacchia
4.Joel Parkinson