O'NEILL WORLD CUP OF SURFING
TONY CANO, XTREMEFOTOS.COM
/ SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Andy Irons completed his second snap off the top of this huge wave that he caught in the last few seconds of his heat at Sunset Beach yesterday.
Irons beats clock
The three-time world champ scores enough in the final seconds to win his World Cup heat
THE BIG FISH were in the water for the first two days of the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach, the second jewel in the 23rd annual men's Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Yesterday, the larger sharks came out to join them.
One of the biggest was Andy Irons of Kauai, the three-time world and two-time Triple Crown champion who also won this event last year.
Seeded directly into the fifth round and surfing for the first time on the third of four competition days for the World Cup, Irons used a 6.63 (out of 10) wave score for a ride he snagged with only seconds left in his heat to grind his way from last to first place and advance to the final day.
"I knew I really needed a score with 1 minute to go," Irons, 27, said. "The wave popped up ... I dropped to the bottom, did a snap and then set up for the inside bowl. I did another big snap that kind of threw me out into the flats and I almost pearled. Somehow I came through the white water, and I was like, 'Oh, that's gotta be enough.' "
The Triple Crown is a prestigious series of three big-wave events on Oahu's North Shore that represents the last leg of the surfing season each year. It also awards its own championship title to the top overall performer in the series.
Waves were mostly in the 10- to 15-foot-face range yesterday.
After winning three straight world championships from 2002-04 and the Triple Crown as well the first two of those years, Irons will finish this year as the world runner-up because Kelly Slater of Florida sealed his record seventh world title earlier this month in Brazil at the last event before the Triple Crown. (Slater is only participating in the Triple Crown's final jewel, the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters next month.)
Irons only made it through one heat of the first jewel of the Triple Crown -- the Op Pro Hawaii at Haleiwa -- and would have fared worse at the World Cup if he didn't catch that last-second ride. It was added to an earlier 7.50 he received for a successful barrel ride to give him a heat-winning, two-wave total of 14.13 points.
Until yesterday, Irons had not surfed at Sunset Beach at all this season.
"I was really shaky out there," he said. "I haven't ridden a board this big all winter. I went home (to Hanalei) and pretty much been surfing small waves and haven't prepared. ... Just glad I got that heat out of the way."
Two more among the other biggest names at this year's Triple Crown also moved on yesterday: Hawaii's Pancho Sullivan and Sunny Garcia.
In fact, the pair advanced out of the same four-man fifth-rounder, with Sullivan (16.40) winning the heat and Garcia (15.06) qualifying for the World Cup's final day in the runner-up spot.
Sullivan is currently leading the Triple Crown standings after picking up his first career series victory last week at the Op Pro. He also assured himself a spot on the elite 2006 World Championship Tour reserved for the world's top 45 surfers with yesterday's result.
Garcia is the defending and record six-time Triple Crown champ who's in good position to repeat after making the semifinals at the first jewel.
"Obviously, (Sunny is) probably the best Hawaii surfer ever -- so dominant here on the North Shore," Sullivan, 32, said. "But I can only focus on myself, do as well as I can. I just tried to keep it simple out there, position myself for the best waves, and I got two good ones."
Other local surfers to advance yesterday were Kalani Robb, Hank Gaskell, Nathan Carroll, Sean Moody, Kainoa McGee and Ian Walsh.
Others moving on included 2001 world champ C.J. Hobgood of Florida, current world No. 3 and last year's Triple Crown runner-up Phillip MacDonald of Australia and No. 4 Mick Fanning. Fanning, also from Down Under, posted the highest heat score (18.40) of the day.
Among the big names to go down were Irons' younger brother and No. 12 Bruce Irons, No. 13 Fred Patacchia of Sunset Beach and 1999 world champ Mark Occhilupo of Australia.
Conditions permitting, the World Cup will continue today. The final day of competition must be held by Dec. 6.
The second jewel of the eighth annual women's Triple Crown -- the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing Sunset Challenge -- is a one-day event that has yet to run and also must be completed by the same date.