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Makuakai Rothman captured the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing yesterday at Sunset Beach. The Pipeline Masters waiting period starts Saturday.
Rothman wraps up World Cup
Professional surfer Makuakai Rothman has ridden bigger waves in his career. Earned bigger money, too.
But in terms of prestige -- and pure drama -- the 23-year-old from Sunset Beach has never had a bigger victory than the one he earned yesterday by winning the 33rd annual O'Neill World Cup of Surfing.
Staged virtually in his own backyard at the famed Sunset break, Rothman scraped into a large set wave with only 3 minutes remaining in the 35-minute, four-man final. He was sitting in second place at the time and needed a near-perfect 9.02 (out of 10) wave score to overtake Brazil's Leonardo Neves for the lead.
After completing the steep and late drop down its face, Rothman successfully surfed his way through the chunky wave's barreling section, and then followed with a deep carve in its pocket before the wave shut down. Through the loud cheers from spectators on the beach, Rothman's score was announced as a 9.50 -- giving him a winning total of 16.33 points for his top two waves in the decider.
"When I saw that wave, I was just thinking, 'I gotta go, no matter what, because there ain't goin' be no more ones like this,' " said Rothman, who previously was most well known for being towed into a 66-foot wave at Jaws on Maui five years ago and later winning the Billabong XXL award and $66,000 in prize money for the ride on the wave that was determined to be the biggest successfully ridden that year.
"This is winning in my backyard, one of the biggest contests of the year," he continued. "I grew up here, surfed here all my life. I've bled and cried on this beach. This means everything to me. I was just like the UH Warriors (football team) -- clutch at the end."
Rothman also pocketed the $15,000 top prize for the victory.
The World Cup is one of the longest-running and most-esteemed pro events in the world. It is the second of three major contests on the North Shore that make up the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing series, and also serves as the season finale for the World Qualifying Series.
Waves were in the 10- to 18-foot-face range for the final day of the event that started with an international field of 136 surfers and took all or part of five different days to complete.
Though the World Cup serves as the season-ender for the WQS tour, most of the world's top 45 surfers from the elite World Championship Tour participate each year because it is part of the Triple Crown series.
Rothman primarily focuses on competing in the Hawaii events that are part of the WQS. He made the final of Xcel Pro at Sunset Beach earlier this year and last, but the World Cup victory was his first major title on the North Shore.
Because of his performance at a WQS event at Pipeline at the start of this year, Rothman also has a spot in the upcoming Billabong Pipeline Masters, which serves as the finale for both the Triple Crown and WCT.
"Sky's the limit for me because I have confidence in myself," Rothman said. "I surf as good as these (WCT) guys when the waves are good."
Ranked No. 18 on the WCT, Neves seized the lead in the World Cup final after only 2 minutes had passed, and then built on it. He appeared well on his way to becoming only the second Brazilian to win a men's Triple Crown event in the series' 25-year history (Fabio Gouveia won the World Cup in 1991), but ended up having to settle for second place with 15.84 total points for his top two rides.
"I had the lead with 5 minutes (remaining), but (Rothman) got that wave with only 3 minutes left," Neves said. "But he's a good guy and he's my friend for the many years that I come here. I had a good time, and because of my (finish) here I feel strong (for Pipeline)."
New world champion Mick Fanning (11.34) placed third. After looking unstoppable and winning every one of his heats in the event until the final, Daniel Ross (7.93) took fourth. Both are from Australia.
"I was pretty drained after the semifinals, but I tried to give it a good go," said Ross, who still squeezed out a spot on the 2008 WCT by making the World Cup final and was given the Best Breakout Performance award for the contest. "It was an emotional day for me."
Kauai's Roy Powers, the winner of the first jewel of the Triple Crown at Haleiwa -- and penultimate WQS event -- last month, is the only WQS surfer from Hawaii to qualify for next year's WCT. After finishing as the World Cup runner-up last year, Jordy Smith of South Africa was eliminated yesterday in the quarterfinals but still finished as the winner of the WQS and with a WCT spot for next year.
Besides the individual titles from each of its three events, the Triple Crown also awards its own championship to the top overall performer in the series. Australia's Bede Durbidge has the Triple Crown lead after placing second in the first jewel and making the quarters at the World Cup. Powers is in the second spot and Fanning the third.
Hawaii's Sunny Garcia -- the former two-time World Cup and record six-time Triple Crown overall champ -- had a strong World Cup performance before being ousted in the semifinals. But after being released from house arrest for tax evasion just before the Triple Crown, he did not do well enough overall in the first two jewels to earn a spot in the Pipeline Masters, which has a waiting period that begins Saturday and runs through Dec. 20.
Rothman dedicated his World Cup victory to surfer Peter Davi, who died yesterday while surfing Ghost Trees, a big-wave spot off Pebble Beach, Calif.