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Star-Bulletin Sports


Friday, December 7, 2001


[ SURFING ]


art
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Russell Winter catches a wave in the second round of the Rip Curl Cup. He beat Taylor Knox to advance.




Florida’s Hobgood
is world-title good

He loses his second-round heat but
captures the coveted ASP
championship at Sunset Beach


By Brandon Lee
blee@starbulletin.com

In a matter of hours at the Rip Curl Cup yesterday, professional surfer CJ Hobgood experienced both the disappointment of losing a battle and the exhilaration of winning the war.

Hobgood lost his second-round heat in 8- to 12-foot surf at Sunset Beach around midday to Hawaii trialist Myles Padaca, eliminating him from the contest, which will wrap up today.

An hour before sundown, however, the Satellite Beach, Fla., native was all smiles, as a series of events before and after his heat made him a world champion for the first time.

"I don't even know how I feel right now," Hobgood, 22, said. "I just did what I could do out there, and hoped the good Lord would bless me."

Perhaps it was divine intervention that allowed Hobgood to win the world title. In taking the 2001 crown, he became the only surfer besides the first world champion -- Peter Townend in 1976 -- to take the title without winning a rated event the same year.

Hobgood had entered the Rip Curl -- the second jewel of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and final World Championship Tour event for the year -- as the WCT ratings leader.

But eight other competitors still had a shot at wresting the title from him at the start of the day, including last year's world champion, Kauai's Sunny Garcia, making for the most wide-open race in professional surfing's 26-year history.

Yet one by one, the others lost in their heats as well, and when Australian Danny Wills failed to get by American Ben Bourgeois in the second-to-last heat of the day, the last of Hobgood's opposition had wiped out on his chance at the title.

"If you had told me that all nine guys would lose today," Hobgood said. "I would have bet a world title against that."

The Wills-Bourgeois heat did not pass without high drama, as the Aussie still had a chance to move on to the quarterfinals if he managed to post an 8.16 (out of 10) score in the waning seconds of the third-round heat. Wills needed to win the Rip Curl to overtake Hobgood.

Wills scraped into an 8-footer with less than a minute left, cut back hard once, but did not have any wave face left after that. Bourgeois -- a North Carolinian who Hobgood had grown up competing against -- won the heat 14.75 to 6.6.

"Ben and I used to surf against each other in our amateur careers, and he used to beat me," Hobgood said. "Having Ben decide my fate is incredible."

While Hobgood doesn't have a shot at the Triple Crown title -- which goes to best overall performer in the three-contest series -- he is already looking forward to the finale, the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters. The prestigious invite-only event (with a holding period of tomorrow through Dec. 17) is held at the hollow left-breaking Pipeline at Ehukai Beach, which suits Hobgood's goofy-footed stance well.

"I should probably go practice right now," he joked.

Looking ahead to next year, when he will be surrounded by all the attention accorded a world champion, Hobgood said: "I just hope I can go out there and do it again, and show everybody I'm for real and worthy of the honor."

Australian Mick Fanning posted the highest wave (9.50) and cumulative (23.90) score in eliminating Garcia (11.75 total) yesterday. Fanning, who took second at the Triple Crown's first event -- the G-Shock Hawaiian Pro -- looks to be a favorite to take the Rip Curl and possibly the overall series titles.

Kauai's Andy Irons and Padaca -- who placed first and third, respectively, at the G-Shock -- are also contenders.

Competition resumed this morning with Padaca and Australian Trent Munro competing for a quarterfinal spot.



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