Sullivan nearly

The surf at the Banzai Pipeline was far from perfect yesterday, but it was still good enough for Hawaii's Pancho Sullivan to deliver a near-perfect performance and secure perhaps the biggest win of his career.

In tricky and dangerous conditions that offered only the occasional long barrel ride at the 21st annual Monster Energy Pro, the veteran professional from Pupukea was able to pick off two of the best of them in the final to tally 18.90 total points -- 1.10 away from a perfect score of 20 -- and win the prestigious event for the first time.

"It's such an incredible feeling to do well here at Pipe. It's the most respected wave in the world," said the 31-year-old Sullivan, who picked up $10,000 with the victory.

"This (win) is right up there" among his career best, added the surfer, who also has multiple victories at Sunset Beach and won in a different contest at Pipeline (Backdoor Shootout) before. "To win at Pipe is every competitive surfer's dream."

The Monster Energy Pro was a four-day, 4-star World Qualifying Series event. As the biggest contest at the revered North Shore surf spot aside from the Pipeline Masters, it attracted an international field of 170 surfers.

Sullivan was also a finalist last year.

After successfully surfing through three earlier heats in the 12- to 15-foot-face waves on the last day this time, he again qualified for the 35-minute, all-Hawaii final, joining Brian Pacheco, Ola Eleogram and Evan Valiere.

With patience and knowledge from years of experience, Sullivan picked off his first high score 12 minutes into the decider, after scraping into an inside Pipeline left and riding backside for almost 3 seconds in the barrel before shooting out for a 9.00. He sealed the win with a 9.90 on his last ride 11 minutes later, on which he free fell into a solid 15-foot right-handed barrel and came out successfully again.

"I tried to make really good selections -- there were a lot of waves that were really sketchy," Sullivan said. "I wasn't trying to play it safe, but just position myself as deep as possible and have a really good shot at making it."

Finishing in second place with a two-wave total of 11.50 points was Makaha's Pacheco.

"I'm super stoked to even have had a chance to surf in the event," said the 28-year-old, who also received the Todd Chesser Memorial Award for his commitment and class in the big surf. "I've been plugging away at it for years, and just now I'm starting to figure it out. ... I'm real used to surfing waves like this that are real quick and all over the place, and I just got lucky."

Maui's Eleogram (9.95) finished third, and Kauai's Valiere (8.50) fourth. Just a first-year pro, Eleogram, 18, had to get five staples after the heat to seal a gash on his head from hitting the reef.

"I was just hoping to make it to the final day," said a still-elated Eleogram. "Each heat I just kept on going, I'm like, 'What the hell is going on? Why am I still here?' ... My head was bleeding down my face, but whatever."

Some pros, like Eleogram, use the Monster Energy Pro as an opportunity to earn points toward potentially qualifying for the elite World Championship Tour. Others, like Sullivan, treat it as an opportunity to compete on the world stage, but have no real plans outside of Hawaii.

However, with yesterday's win and the 1,500 ratings points that came with it, Sullivan said he now has to think about potentially competing elsewhere and making a go at the WCT.

"I feel like I've got a lot of great surfing left in me," Sullivan said. "I'm going to keep striving to push myself to a higher level than where I'm at now. ... With a result like this ... I have to see if there is a way to get seven more results -- and then you're on the dream tour."

The highest finisher not from Hawaii was three-time world champion Tom Curren of California. The 40-year-old placed third in his semifinal heat, one spot away from qualifying for the final.

Between the semis and the final, Hawaii's Lance Hookano won the longboard expression session and $500.

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