Sunset Beach: Day 1

posted by / News / November 29, 2008

No surprises on this swell. It arrived as forecasted, picked up through the day as forecasted and held for some of the most groomed, classic Sunset you could wish for. Thanksgiving the day after. An all-day, all-you-can eat wave feast from dawn to the dying day. And for competitors who lost out today at the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing and the Roxy Pro – stops two on the {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown of Surfing – there is no one to blame but themselves. They had plenty of time to prepare – a full five days to get those quivers dialed and those butterflies exterminated. They had a good, two-hour window before the event started today – solid, sling-shotting Sunset flinging in everyone from Sunny Garcia to Jarrad Howse to Leann Curren into great walls. They even had the weather on their side – sunny skies, light and variables in the morning shifting to sea breeze shifting to light trades in the afternoon. Mix that with a building, 8- to 12-foot northwest swell, and you have the ingredients for Sunset’s prettiest face.

It was so inviting and user-friendly, even the girls – at least some of them – made it look easy. With the Roxy Pro being the penultimate Women’s World Tour event and the title on the line, you’d think there’d be some real intensity between frontrunners Stephanie Gilmore and Sofia Mulanovich. Not so for surfing’s reigning queens. Both took the day to get the kinks out and save up for the real battle in the later rounds, and neither seemed too preoccupied with the ongoing title battle. But Number Three Layne Beachley certainly knows what’s at stake. With the last year of her untouchable career winding down, she’d like nothing more than to end on an eighth note. “I’d love to leave on my own terms,” she said about her impending retirement during this morning’s warm-up. “I like my chances here – Sunset’s always been good to me.”

Oddly enough, none of the three world title contenders were the standouts today. The day’s top honors goes to Melanie Bartels – who won the Roxy Pro here as a wildcard in 2006. With a Round One heat total of 18.4 and full-rail carving that would have gotten her out of a number of Men’s heats today, Bartels is certain to play spoiler for one title hopeful. In her quarterfinal matchup, she’ll be facing Steph Gilmore. The other potential spoilers survived the morning’s sudden-death trials heat and are now set to do some damage of their own: Sally Fitzgibbons, Coco Ho and Leann Curren, who’s more and more like Dad the older she gets. Curren was particularly impressive, surfing with a duct-taped, damage knee and nearly comboing Layne Beachley at her spot. Beachley gets Curren again, while Mulanovich has to tangle up with Fitzgibbons.

About 12 p.m., executive director Randy Rarick decided the men deserved a shot at the increasing swell. No surprises here, either. Marcus Hickman has been Sunset’s most unsung, underground standout for years now. There are few who know the wave better, and that was clear from the moment he paddled out for this morning’s warmup. Straight out into the pack. Whips it right in the saddle, and eases into the wave of the morning without even getting his hair wet. That continued into the event, as he breezed through his first round and dominated his second in some of the best Sunset we’ve seen at this event in years. “You can’t ask for any better than this,” said Hickman.

With Round One and four heats of Round 2 out of the way, we now approach the business end of the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing. This is where that tight pack of surfers – the guys who’ve nearly killed themselves all year – are now facing do-or-die scenarios at one of the most fickle, unforgiving waves on the planet. Guys like Patrick Gudauskas, who looked to be a lock this year until things went south in Hawaii. Or Marlon Lipke. Phil MacDonald is on the bubble, but has a very low throwaway, and then there’s Brett Simpson and Yadin Nicol, both with the chance to win golden tickets if they get a big result here. Then, of course, there’s Sunny Garcia, who is not happy about his Round of 128 seeding. Sunny needs a fifth or better to guarantee a historic requalification, and he plans on doing just that. But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to press the issue about his questionable seeding. “I went to every one of those guys, demanding to know how it worked out like that,” says Garcia. “And no one could give me a straight answer. I guess I’ll have to prove myself again like I always have – in the water.”

Winds permitting, Sunny and the O’Neill World Cup should be all systems go tomorrow. Be sure to check the live webcast at www.TripleCrownOfSurfing.com

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