The 2007 edition of the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing has been a saga, Sunset Beach throwing up a mighty configuration of challenges for the elite field. From the second day forward it has been solid Sunset, from the "as good as it gets" arvo session in the Rd of 128 to fun size, although at the upper spectrum of challenge for the Women, to some macking days as we enter the second week of the waiting period.
So far Sunset has been the master, the guys in the critical Rd of 64 have had to surf with intelligence, bravery and great instinct, positioning themselves for scoring opportunities in between massive sets that not only washed through the line-up but mowed everything down in their path, transforming modern day surfing gladiators into just some more flotsam and jetsam.
It took two half day efforts, both of which were blown out of the water by, well, too much water, to get the event down to the Top 32. It has been anything but a cakewalk out there. Sunset never is, but these past days have been particularly vicious, as bombing sets reigned down on the contestants, the whole horizon seemingly moving closer to shore as booming sets erupted on outer reefs.
The guys had to be so cool under fire, hanging tough in the pit as the outer reefers backed off and roared into Sunset proper. There was every conceivable situation happening, from incidents like Bruce Irons and Kieren Perrow having their boards blasted from them on the outside west peak, to guys getting taken out of the line-up without catching a wave.
Every mistake and mis-judgement was punished severely, usually with a sapping 10 minute rotation through the impact zone, into the channel and back into the loop on the outside. Recognizing both the time consuming element and potential for danger Head Judge Perry Hatchett, surfer rep Kieren Perrow and personal watercraft captain Terry Ahui conferred early in the morning and came up with a savvy safety plan.
The execution of this well orchestrated plan served the event well, allowing the guys to swap boards, exchange caddy boards and get back in the line-up with minimal fuss and little loss of time. The first thing the guys did was keep the caddies on the beach, the swell being so wild that the channel was periodically closing, making it both difficult to make the surfer/caddy connection and adding to Terry’s woes by having more unsecured bodies in the arena.
The deal was that Terry would coordinate his water patrol team using bino’s from the judging tower, spotting a surfer in distress or a broken board then honing his boys to the spot. They would get zoomed to the deep water just beyond the shorey while the caddy battled through said shorey, which was mean, delivered the back-up board, then the surfer would be delivered to the outer section of the channel and make his way into the line-up on his own steam.
It worked a treat, it was comforting to have such a proficient team of watermen looking over the battling pros, and watching Perry and Terry in action was like watching two masters, in their element, at the top their game. It has been a couple phenomenal days, the agony of defeat etched in the eyes of those whose whole year got obliterated in the maelstrom of Sunset, the deep satisfaction of those who survived to fight another day.
Over the past few days we have witnessed the 07 campaigns of Nic Muscroft, Dayyan Neve, Daniel Ross and TJ Barron go from hanging by a thread to flying home on a wet sail, all prevailing in clutch situations to edge their way ever closer to that magic marker. The real rattler is how far down the list the final qualifier will come from. We know 15 will make the cut, but right now there are no less then six surfers double qualifying, but we will not know until after Pipe what the magic number is.
Spare a thought for those who are out of Sunset, are outside the WCT bubble heading into Pipe, and who can only sit back and play with their rosary beads while their fate is decided by the fortunes of others. Luke Munro, Gabe Kling and Shaun Cansdell are in such a space. They either need the likes of Muscroft, Ross, Neve and Barron to not progress any further or require Adriano de Souza and Roydon Bryson to hang in there in the WCT Top 27 and thus not have o rely on their WQS ranking to re-qualify.
So far the stand out performer has been the unheralded Dan Ross. He not only has the op two highest heat scores to his credit but handled the wild and woolly going of yesterday like a north shore veteran. Local surfer TJ Barron has also shone in the heavy water, the look of deep satisfaction etched on his face as he conducted a beach interview after the last heat before victory at sea was declared.
Another surprise stand-out was Adrian Buchan, who is not only in a late season ascension but handled the outside peak with aplomb, quite an impressive performance, as was that posted by former 6 times Triple Crown champ Sunny Garcia. The elimination of Roy Powers, Joel Parkinson and Sean Moody has thrown the Vans Triple Crown into chaos, Bede Durbidge the only survivor from last weeks epic Haleiwa final.
So the drama builds as we anticipate more bombing swells out of the North Pacific. Contest Director Bernie Baker was talking with surfing sage George Downing this morning. Nobody is more tuned to the thrust and parry of Pacific storms, jet stream anomalies and the vagaries of local weather and nobody has been a better student over 40years then Bernie Baker, except for maybe his running mate Triple Crown Director Randy Rarick.
Bernie relayed that George reckons it was a great move to run yesterday, that there is a new, more intense west front closing in on Kauai and with nothing under 12’ of swell for the remainder of the window; calm windows will be precious and should not be missed. Randy and Bernie know this scenario well, they may have successfully whittled the O’Neill World Cup down to a one day package but it might have to be eked out over several half days.
The stark reality facing the 32 guys still in contention is that it might be just as big as yesterday but with way worse surface conditions for the remainder of the window. All the best to all still in contention may the best Sunset Master prevail.