[ SURFING ]
MARK BERKOWITZ /SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN|
Pancho Sullivan rode a wave en route to his victory over Kelly Slater at the Ezekiel/ Faith Riding Pro yesterday at Sunset Beach on Oahu's North Shore.
Sullivan edges Slater
for his fifth victory
The surfer from Pupukea beats
the six-time world champion
on Oahu's North Shore
Kelly Slater commands respect everywhere he surfs. But at Sunset Beach, if there is one name that arguably garners as much -- if not more -- respect as Slater's, it's Pancho Sullivan's.
The Hawaii veteran showed why at the Ezekiel/Faith Riding Pro at Sunset Beach yesterday, winning the event over the former six-time world champion from Florida.
The victory was Sullivan's first at the event, but his fourth overall career title at the famed right-hander on Oahu's North Shore.
"I absolutely love Sunset -- it's one of my favorite waves in the world to surf," the 30-year-old Pupukea resident said. "It's an incredible challenge, and it really forces you to dig deep. It's a challenge that I really enjoy -- it's what I really want.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be thought of as one of the better surfers out here at Sunset. I've worked really hard to do well and be consistent out here."
Sullivan's last win at Sunset Beach came less than three months ago at the final stop of the 2003 Hawaii Pro/Am Circuit -- the Xcel Pro. It was his third career Xcel title.
A two-day event, the Ezekiel/Faith represented the start of the 2004 HPAC series, and also the World Qualifying Series tour. Waves were in the 12- to 20-foot-face range yesterday on the final day of competition.
Slater, who finished No. 2 in the world last year, was in town because of the gigantic North Shore swells this month and the chance that the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau big-wave event might be held (It was not, but the waiting period extends to Feb. 28). He decided on a whim to enter the Ezekiel/Faith to keep sharp for the start of this year's World Championship Tour, about a month away.
JAMIE BALLENGER / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN|
Kelly Slater rode a thick wave during an early-morning heat at Sunset Beach during yesterday's competition.
"I was here for the Eddie anyway, and I was just driving by and figured I'd stop to see if there were any spots left," Slater, 31, said. "(And) I had a good run. I just wanted to get some time out here at Sunset -- I didn't have a good run out here the last few months. ... It's always nice to stay fresh with your contests."
And Slater was very much on top of his game, winning every one of his heats en route to making the four-man, 30-minute final. Once there, he appeared poised to run the table, jumping out to an early lead with a barrel ride about five minutes in.
But with only about two minutes left, Sullivan powered through the hollow, barreling section of a 16-foot wave and received a score of 7.52 points (out of 10 maximum) from the judges.
Combined with a 7.8 he received for a series of his patented gouging maneuvers on an earlier wave, the ride ultimately proved to be the difference as Sullivan narrowly bested Slater for the title with a two-wave total of 15.32 points to 13.86.
"My strategy is never to really think about the other surfers because, basically, you're just dealing with the elements," Sullivan said. "I'm just trying to put myself in the best position to get set waves, and once I get them, surf them with every ounce of energy I have."
Still, he admitted: "This is a very gratifying win, especially with the level of competition and Kelly in the final."
Makakilo's Joel Centeio ended up in third place with a total of 12.26 points. Kauai's Roy Powers took fourth, with 6.96.
The next HPAC event is the Hansen's Pro at the Banzai Pipeline, Feb. 18-Mar. 2.