Merle-Jones of Kauai has big day at Sunset Beach
Ranked 102 in the WQS, the 27-year-old posts the second-best total of the first day
For many professional surfers, success in the famed North Shore arenas is its own reward -- and greater than anything else they achieve on the world stage.
Count Jesse Merle-Jones among those who feel that way.
Though there are still three days left in the 32nd annual O'Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach, the 27-year-old from Kauai was a standout on the first. Merle-Jones won two heats yesterday with some of the highest scores posted so far in the major contest that serves as the second jewel of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
"All the best surfers in the world do these events -- these are really tough events," Merle-Jones said. "I don't even think about winning an event until I'm in the final, but everyone wants to of course have a big win in Hawaii that will change their career and they'll be remembered for the rest of their lives."
Merle-Jones' 16.66 (out of 20) total points for his top two waves in the first round was the second-highest overall heat score for the day. His top-scoring wave in that heat was a near-perfect 9.33, which tied for third highest.
With an international field that began with 144 surfers, eight trials heats and 11 of 16 heats in the first round were run in waves with faces that ranged from 8 to 14 feet.
Besides being part of the Triple Crown, the World Cup also serves as the season finale for the World Qualifying Series, a lower-tiered tour that competitors use to qualify for the elite World Championship Tour, which is generally reserved for the world's top 45 surfers (the Triple Crown's last jewel is the WCT final).
At No. 102 on the WQS, Merle-Jones does not have a shot to qualify for next year's WCT. But a big final result at the World Cup could give him a much higher seed in next year's WQS.
"I'm just thankful that I'm able to surf well again," Merle-Jones said, after sitting out with a foot injury for the first half of this WQS season, his third. The WQS "is really not what I'm focusing on. I feel good at Sunset, and just want to do well in these (Triple Crown) events. At any venue you can have your day, but when you're at home you definitely feel more comfortable, like you have more right to do well here."
A surfer with nothing to prove -- either in Hawaii or abroad -- Derek Ho also advanced to the World Cup's second day with two heat wins. The oldest competitor in the event at 42, Ho became Hawaii's first men's world champion in 1993. He has won the Triple Crown championship -- which goes to the best overall performer in the series -- four times, and the World Cup once (1990) as well.
"I'm just self-motivated," said Ho of continuing to participate in the Triple Crown. "Maybe I'm not as hard on myself now when I lose, but I'm going out there to win."
Hawaii surfers Daniel Jones and Nathan Carroll also advanced. Jones won his first-round heat with 14.60 points, while Carroll tallied 16.57 in his, but had to settle for the runner-up spot. Australian Kieren Perrow moved on from the same first-rounder as Carroll after winning the heat with 17.66 points and a top wave of 9.83 -- both the highest marks of the day.
Fellow Aussie Josh Kerr was another standout, moving into the second round by winning his heat with 15.66 points and a high of 9.33. Kauai's Andy Irons -- the 2005 Triple Crown champ and this year's series leader after winning the first jewel on Tuesday -- will not surf in the World Cup until the third round. After skipping the first event, current and record eight-time world champion Kelly Slater of Florida will debut in this year's series in the same round.
Surf permitting, the Triple Crown will resume today with either the second day of the World Cup, or the first of the women's second jewel, the Roxy Pro, also at Sunset Beach.