By Daniel Ikaika Ito

The first big swell of the Hawaiian winter season made for a heavy opening day of competition at the Vans World Cup of Surfing. Sunset Beach was a windy and massive 8-to 10-foot with occasional 12-foot cleanup sets (that's 20-foot plus faces, brah). It was survival surfing for the second jewel of the Vans Triple Crown.

According to North Shore native and former World Cup Champ Makuakai Rothman, when conditions are as giant and unruly as they were yesterday, it really doesn't matter how familiar you are with Sunset Beach.

"Local knowledge goes out the window brah," said Rothman, who won his heat against six-time Triple Crown champ Sunny Garcia, Blake Thornton and Gony Zubizarreta.

"It's just all over the place and I had no idea where I was," the 27-year-old native Hawaiian said. "I was so lost and somehow got two waves and won the heat."

If Makuakai — who grew up surfing Sunset — was perplexed by the shifty conditions and quadruple overhead surf, imagine how gnarly it was for visitors like Blake and Gony.

Australian natural-foot Blake Thornton had a chance to advance out of the round of 128 after he snagged two good scoring rides right off the bat and led the heat early on. But if you're winning a heat it's tough to sit on your competitors in the soccer-field sized lineup of Sunset Beach, not to mention it's tough to pressure guys like Makuakai and Sunny. Although Thornton and Sunny both had equal two-wave totals, 11 out of a possible 20 points, the young Aussie was relegated to third place from a wave count back [shoulda just arm-wrestled].

It was a 6.67 double-barrel that helped former World Champ Sunny Garcia advance out of the heat. And perhaps we'll see the POV video of those massive Sunset tubes soon, as Sunny surfed his entire heat with a GoPro Hero 2 digital camera attached to the nose.

"The guys at GoPro have been helping me out for the last year or two so I was trying to help get them footage," said Garcia. "They asked me if I would use it during the heat because it's a new camera and we wanted to see what we could get."

Besides competing and shooting, Sunny was also a coach and board caddy for reigning ASP World Junior Champ Jack Freestone. Freestone failed to advance out of his heat, losing to Sunset locals Myles Padaca and Mason Ho.

"I've been coaching Jack Freestone over the course of the Triple Crown and days like today there's no amount of coaching that's gonna help you," explained Garcia, who admitted to getting caught on the inside by every set while caddying. "It's a matter of going out there and surviving."


Round of 128. 1st & 2nd advance.
H1: Vincent Duvignac (FRA) 13.24pts ; Evan Valiere (HAW) 11.94pts ; Tyler Newton (HAW) 7.94pts ; Sebastien Zietz (HAW) 6.93pts
H2: Marcus Hickman (HAW) 9.00pts ; Perth Standlick (AUS) 7.93pts ; Gabriel Villaran (PER) 7.60pts ; Yuri Sodre (BRA) 3.30pts
H3: Billy Kemper (HAW) 8.33pts ; Chris Foster (HAW) 7.40pts ; Jeronimo Vargas (BRA) 5.86pts ; Roy Powers (HAW) 5.70pts
H4: Jamie O’Brien (HAW) 14.84pts ; Brent Dorrington (AUS) 9.36pts ; Caio Ibelli (BRA) 9.23pts ; ALex Smith (HAW) 5.50pts
H5: Kekoa Bacalso (HAW) 11.00pts ; Gavin Gillette (HAW) 10.83pts ; Shaun Cansdell (AUS) 7.70pts ; Solomon Ortiz (HAW) 7.06pts
H6: Torry Meister (HAW) 9.43pts ; Brian Toth (PRI) 7.90pts ; Dege O’Connell (HAW) 6.90pts ; Hodei Collazo (EUK) 6.00pts
H7: Pancho Sullivan (HAW) 14.87pts ; Tim Reyes (USA) 10.20pts ; Kevin Sullivan (HAW) 8.83pts ; Billy Stairmand (NZL) 1.70pts
H8: Davey Cathels (AUS) 11.60pts ; Olamana Eleogram (HAW) 10.80pts ; Nathaniel Curran (USA) 9.67pts ; Dylan Goodale (HAW) 8.77pts
H9: Joel Centeio (HAW) 12.50pts ; Ian Walsh (HAW) 9.67pts ; Jano Belo (BRA) 9.43pts ; Jesse Merle-Jones (HAW) 7.56pts
H10: Tonino Benson (HAW) 16.17pts ; Dale Staples (ZAF) 15.17pts ; Kamalei Alexander (HAW) 11.40pts ; Masatoshi Ohno (JPN) 6.33pts
H11: Keanu Asing (HAW)12.90pts ; Austin Ware (USA) 8.06pts ; Stu Kennedy (AUS) 6.77pts ; Makai McNamara (HAW) 5.97pts
H12: Adrien Toyon (REU)  11.67pts ; Sean Moody (HAW)  10.66pts ; Casey Brown (HAW) 7.03pts ; Joan Duru (FRA) 6.36pts
H13: Makuakai Rothman (HAW) 11.97pts ; Sunny Garcia (HAW) 11.00pts ; Blake Thornton (AUS) 11.00pts ; Gony Zubizarreta (ESP) 9.96pts
H14: Mitchel Coleborn (AUS) 13.30pts ; Tanner Hendrickson (HAW) 12.93pts ; TJ Barron (HAW) 10.67pts ; Jonathan Gonzalez (CNY) 8.87pts
H15: Myles Padaca (HAW) 12.93pts ; Mason Ho (HAW) 12.70pts ; Jack Freestone (AUS) 9.37pts ; Rudy Palmboom (ZAF) 7.43pts
H16: Ricardo Dos Santos (BRA) 15.53pts ; Ian Gentil (HAW) 12.90pts ; Flynn Novak (HAW) 9.73pts ; Maxime Huscenot (FRA) 8.80pts