A childhood dream came true for Sunset Beach resident Makuakai Rothman today, when he won the biggest professional surfing event of his career – the $125,000 O’Neill World Cup of Surfing – at the beach he was born and raised on. The O’Neill World Cup is the second jewel of the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing series that draws the closing curtain on the ASP World Surfing Tour each year.
In the dying two minutes of the O’Neill World Cup final, Rothman secured the highest scoring ride of the 35-minute heat to edge out Brazilian Leonardo Neves. Neves had dominated the four-man, 35-minute final from the outset and the local Brazilian contingent were starting to celebrate when the wave of the final peaked up and Rothman took off.
Needing a near-perfect score of 9.2 points, Rothman found his way into the tube, earning 9.5 points to turn the tables and seal the victory. World champion-elect Mick Fanning, from Australia, took third place, and O’Neill World Cup giant-killer Daniel Ross, also from Australia, placed fourth in the final. Reaching the final was especially sweet for Ross, who has won his way onto the elite ASP World Championship Tour for 2008 with this result.
Conditions today ranged from clean wave face heights of up to 20 feet prior to the semi-finals, to strong, side-shore wind-blown surf of 10- to 12-feet for the final heats. All four finalists had to surf through four rounds and more than two hours of intense competition in today’s exhausting conditions.
Heading into the final, neither Rothman nor Neves were favored to win, despite the fact that Rothman was literally raised on the waves of Sunset. Fanning had set the waves alight in the earlier rounds today, and Ross had blazed his way through six rounds to reach the final, winning every heat on the way, and emerging with the two highest heat scores of the entire competition by its end.
But the Australians had apparently peaked too early while Rothman and Neves saved their best performances for last. Rothman won $15,000 and moved to fifth on the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing ratings. Neves pocketed $7,000, Fanning earned $4,000, and Ross took home $3,000.
“Besides winning the award for the biggest wave ever ridden when I was just a teenager, this was winning in my backyard at one of the biggest contests of the year. It means everything to me,” said Rothman, 23. “I bled, cried, got my ass kicked, everything, on this beach. It’s just a blessing to make it.
“I know that (wave). I surfed here all my life and I knew. My caddy was telling me go deeper, but every time I went deeper, I was too deep to catch the wave. (The other guys were) too far out and I knew that. I just lined up on the house that my friend lived at all our lives and there’s always a bowl that would break there. And, the wave just came. I paddled as hard as I could and the rest was history after that.”
Despite the last minute lead loss, Neves was gracious with second.
“The heat was too long. I lost in the last three minutes, but that’s okay because I got to surf good, perfect waves,” said Neves, 28. “I love this place. Makua is a good guy and my friend for many years. I came here when he was a small kid now we’re in the same heat. He’s in first, I’m in second.”
Fanning was ecstatic just to be in the running for the Vans Triple Crown title: “It was really hard out there. Nothing really came our way and Leo nailed that first two. Makua just lucked into one and I’m stoked for Makua. He’s a straight up surfer here and it’s awesome. I’m stoked because I’m back in the Triple Crown race.”
Daniel Ross was elated to have qualified and reached the end of an intense event.
“I was pretty tired towards the end of the semi final because of the whole day,” said Ross. “It’s an emotional day for me. It was my dream to qualify and surf with the best surfers in the world. I’m there now, so it’s going to be a great year for me next year.
“It hit me before the final, I was pretty emotional, I was on the phone with one of my good mates, my mom, my dad, my brother and everyone was so stoked for me. It was one of my best days I’ve ever had, it’s the best feeling.”
Australian Bede Durbidge, who reached the final of the first event at Haleiwa, and the quarters here today, leads the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing ratings heading into the Pipeline Masters next week. Roy Powers (Hawaii) winner of the first event, is second on the Vans Triple Crown ratings, followed by Fanning, Buchan, and Rothman.
By virtue of being the highest non-WCT surfer on the Vans Triple Crown ratings, Powers has won a wildcard entry into the third event: the Billabong Pipeline Masters, that will get underway on Saturday, December 8th, running through December 20.
In addition to the $125,000 prize purse for this event, O’Neill partnered with American Racing Equipment, Inc. to offer additional awards for the “Best Barrel” and “Breakout Performance”. Basque surfer Hodei Collazo won Best Barrel, for a perfect 10-point tube ride earlier in the event. Daniel Ross won the Breakout Performance award. They each received a set of American Racing rims out of the ATX Series of all-terrain wheels.
Brazil’s Jihad Khodr won the prestigious Nose Guard Rookie of the Vans Triple Crown.
The O’Neill World Cup of Surfing is the second jewel of the 25th anniversary Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Carrying the highest WQS rating of 6-stars, and as the last WQS event of the year, the O’Neill World Cup was critical in determining the lineup for the elite World Championship Tour (WCT) next year.
At this stage, the following surfers are guaranteed a berth on the 2008 ASP WCT tour: Jordy Smith (ZAF), Dane Reynolds (Ca.), Rodrigo Dornelles (Brz), Jay Thompson (Aust), Tiago Pires (Port), Aritz Aranburu (Euk), Adrian Buchan (Aust), Ben Bourgeois (Fla), Jihad Khodr (Brz), Kieren Perrow (Aust), Jeremy Flores (Fra), Roy Powers (Haw), CJ Hobgood (Fla), Heitor Alves (Brz), Mikael Picon (Fra), Adriano de Souza (Brz), Daniel Ross (Aus), Royden Bryson (ZAF).
Should Adrian Buchan, Royden Bryson and Adriano de Souza use their WCT results to qualify, then Dayyan Neve (Aust), Luke Munro (Aust), and Nic Muscroft (Aust) will join the WCT qualifiers list for 2008. Neve and Munro are also capable of qualifying via this year’s WCT ratings. Should they enter via the WCT rankings, along with Buchan, Bryson and de Souza, then Gabe Kling (Fla) and Shaun Cansdell (Aust) can make the 2008 WCT cut.
Competition now moves to Pipeline for the final stop of Series: the Billabong Pipeline Masters. The official holding period at Pipeline begins Saturday, December 8, and runs through December 20, 2007.
The $740,000 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing consists of the Reef Hawaiian Pro, Haleiwa, Nov. 12-24 (6* WQS, men and women), the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing, Sunset Beach, Nov.25-Dec.6 (6*WQS men and WCT women), the Billabong Pipeline Masters (men), Pipeline, Dec. 8-20 (WCT) and Billabong Pro Maui (women), Honolua Bay, Maui, Dec. 8-20 (WCT).
In addition to $740,000 in prize money, both the men’s and women’s Vans Triple Crown champions will receive a limited edition $25,000 Chevy Colorado truck. The men’s champion will also receive a custom $10,000 Nixon watch.