Eight-time world champion Kelly Slater (Florida) made his long-awaited entrance into the 2006 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Series this weekend, seeded into the fourth round of the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach. But Slater's foray into the event wasn't a smooth one, first arriving late to the beach to find his heat already underway, and then narrowly managing a win of what turned out to be the lowest scoring heat of the competition.

The late start could possibly be attributed to the fact that Slater was performing late into the night last night at a North Shore private benefit concert featuring Pearl Jam. The low scores for all four competitors in the heat were largely the fault of the ocean. A declining swell produced erratic waves today that forced competitors to constantly switch gears and positioning. While take-offs were pitchy, steep and critical, 6-foot waves appeared to vaporize underfoot at times, leaving surfers with low scores.

Slater's heat was the fourth of the morning and all his opponents were present when the day's events got underway at 8am. It didn't take long for competitors to realize that their toughest opposition was going to come from the ocean itself. But for Slater, there was no time for introductions. Tripping his way down the beach and signing his competitor's waiver form on the run, six minutes of the 25-minute heat had elapsed by the time Slater was situated in the lineup. Fortuitously, only one wave had been ridden - a mere 1.0 point ride out of 10 by Pancho Sullivan (Hawaii).

Flaws in the waves translated into magnified problems for the pro's. Sullivan, one of the most Sunset-seasoned competitors in the tournament, suffered a series of uncharacteristic wipeouts; Slater also had a few spills and unsuccessful tube-ride attempts; Nathan Carroll (Hawaii) scratched to score higher than 2.5 but never succeeded and Ola Eleogram (Hawaii) didn't even manage to post a total of one point - his only ride, way into the heat, posted 0.7 points for basically just taking off. Slater ended up winning the heat with a two-wave total of 7.0 points out of a maximum 20. Sullivan scraped through in second with 5.24 points; Carroll was eliminated with 4.73 points, along with Eleogram's 0.70.

"I was still in my house when the heat started," said Slater. "I didn't have the benefit of even checking out the conditions like the other guys did. On top of that, it's been a kind of a strange season so far to surf, so I'm definitely looking forward to better waves as the events continue."

Eliminations this weekend included that of Kieren Perrow (Australia), who still holds highest single wave score and highest heat score total of the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing's, posted in the second round, despite no longer being in the competition. Also taken down were former Vans Triple Crown of Surfing champion Myles Padaca (Hawaii), Bruce Irons (Hawaii), Haleiwa finalist Joel Centeio (Hawaii), and Mikael Picon (France).

Young South African Jordy Smith, 18 years old from Durban, emerged as the top scorer of the men's heats today with 15.0 points. Earlier this year, Smith made the semi-finals of a World Championship Tour event in South Africa as a wildcard.

Just one day of competition remains for the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing. The event has until December 6 to finalize. Organizers and surfers will convene today to determine if conditions are good enough to continue or if they'll choose to wait for the next swell to arrive.

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