Pancho puts his name on Triple Crown list
The 32-year-old finally wins a jewel in the surf series
Hawaii's Pancho Sullivan has spent more than a decade as a professional surfer and has long been recognized as one of the best in the famed waves on Oahu's North Shore.
But, there used to be qualifying labels too: best surfer not to have won one of the three Vans Triple Crown of Surfing events; best not to have won the Triple Crown championship that goes to the series' top overall performer; and one of the best never to compete on the elite World Championship Tour reserved for the top 45 surfers in the world.
With his victory yesterday at the 21st annual Op Pro Hawaii at Haleiwa's Alii Beach Park, the first jewel of the 23rd edition of the men's Triple Crown, the 32-year-old from Pupukea shed the first label and went a long way toward removing the last two as well.
"I've been trying to win a Triple Crown event for the last 12 years," said Sullivan, who picked up $15,000 with the victory and was visibly emotional on the winner's stand. "I've come close a couple of times before, so to finally win one and have it be at home with all the support ... I've always thought the North Shore is the ultimate proving ground for a surfer."
After winning all of the biggest North Shore contests outside of the Triple Crown but never previously managing better than a runner-up finish at a series event, Sullivan's victory also gives him the early lead on his potential first overall Triple Crown title.
And, after making the bold step to finally compete not only in Hawaii this year, but as a regular member of the World Qualifying Series -- the lower-level tour that allows opportunities for its top surfers to earn their way on to the WCT -- the result virtually guarantees him a spot on the elite tour in 2006 with this season nearing its end.
"I just feel lucky and blessed that I get to do what I love to do and compete in these events," Sullivan said. "I kind of let those thoughts (on qualifying for the WCT) go after returning home from traveling all year; my focus was on the Triple Crown. But I am so stoked about (the current situation)."
The Op Pro was a $125,000 6-star WQS event that began with 132 surfers last week.
Wave faces were only 6 to 12 feet yesterday, but conditions were fairly clean and it was also the last day of the waiting period for this four-day event. The series shifts to Sunset Beach for the second jewel, the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing, from tomorrow through Dec. 6.
Powerfully built and heavy -- especially compared to most of his fellow competitors -- Sullivan had no problem throwing his weight around in the quality smaller surf and won the 35-minute, four-man final with 17.23 (out of 20) total points for his top two waves. He was the only Hawaii surfer in the decider, after defending event and Triple Crown champ Sunny Garcia went down in the semifinals.
World No. 4 Mick Fanning of Australia broke his leash on his first wave of the final and had to swim to shore after his board, but he recovered to catch a heat-high nine waves with his top two scoring 15.90 and earning second place. Brazil's Raoni Monteiro (13.43) finished third, and California's Brett Simpson (12.60) fourth.
"I was able to get a lot of quick waves but wasn't able to do all the turns I needed," Fanning, 24, said. "The waves just weren't good enough, but I'm stoked for Pancho."
Sullivan jumped out to the early lead in the final, helped greatly by a 9.33 wave score for a ride that included four huge off-the-top carves in succession about 13 minutes in. With only 9 minutes left, Fanning took over first by adding an 8.07 to an earlier 7.83.
But that was the Aussie's last ride of the heat, while Sullivan was able to catch a 12-foot wave a minute later and execute one very big turn before pulling in for a rare and successful barrel ride. The wave earned him a 7.90 and the lead again, which he would not relinquish the rest of the way.
"I got lucky with that one wave at the end," Sullivan said. "That was definitely the wave I needed to seal the deal."
The O'Neill World Cup is the final event on this year's WQS, while the Triple Crown finale -- the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters at the Banzai Pipeline, Dec. 8-20 -- is the WCT season-ender.
As an elite North Shore surfer, Sullivan was already guaranteed entry into the Rip Curl for a chance at the overall Triple Crown. And, his spot on the 2006 WCT is virtually assured, as he would have to lose very early at the O'Neill World Cup and have a sheer majority of those trailing within about 10 spots of his No. 11 position on the WQS all do really well for this to change.
After making the Op Pro quarterfinals, Roy Powers of Kauai is the only Hawaii surfer ranked higher (No. 6) than Sullivan on the WQS and currently guaranteed a WCT spot next year.
Among the early upsets yesterday, three-time world and two-time Triple Crown champ Andy Irons of Kauai went down in the fourth round, while his younger brother, Bruce, lost in the third.