“Don’t look for that slidey shit at Sunset.”
Commenting on the decidedly anorexic surfboards of the Momentum Generation, former professional surfer-turned-cultural critic Dave Parmenter denounced this new, gymnastic style of riding (tailslides, reversals, aerials) as foiling the ergonomic essentials of power, speed and flow — speculating that that kind of surfing wouldn’t likely find favor in huge, powerful, open-ocean waves like Sunset or G-Land.
Nearly 20 years later, Parmenter’s prediction still rings true.
Today, absolutely gorgeous, glassy, six- to eight-foot-plus north swell conditions graced the final Men’s Prime event of the season, the Vans World Cup of Surfing. But it wasn’t just power surfing that won the Round of 96 heats today. It was raw instinct and waterborne maturity. It was cavalier swagger and physical fitness. It was faith in equipment and those who make the equipment.
Literally the last charge of the One World brigade on the bubble of making their Dream Tour fantasies a reality, Sunset Beach produced near-epic canvases that held strong for the entire eight-hour day of competition. While whales breached in the background, beatings were dealt in the foreground as Sunset’s hallowed inside bowl and all the whitewater flumes and boils and explosions happening around it ate a dozen surfboards and thoroughly exhausted some of the sport’s most finely tuned athletes.
They say there’s no priority in a four-man heat. Not so at Sunset. The North Pacific holds right-of-way throughout. There’s no jet-ski assistance for paddlers, and even if there were, this would still be the hardest wave in the word to surf. Even the caddies are scared shitless here, and getting caught inside of a west peak is probably, still, the most terrifying experience in surfing. Sunset Beach is a black diamond if the sport ever had one, exposing human weaknesses like a psychic giving an MRI. Between the minefield of currents, backwash and wide-swinging sets, just making a wave here from the peak past the bowl to the channel is an accomplishment. Finding a true-blue barrel is heroic. Making one is legendary.
Having injured his ankle doing an air in an Off-the-Wall freesurf, Kai Barger left his bout a three-man heat, making it easier on #12 in line, Jean da Silva, who needed to advance here to keep his tour dream alive. The Brazilian pig-dogged too high in the first inside bowl of the day and went down ominously hard, but still managed to squeeze behind 16-year-old Ian Gentil to advance. “It looks really clean out there, but it’s actually really hard,” downplayed the Maui supergrom, who, incidentally enough, didn’t do a single air-reverse on his 7’0″. Aussie vet Tom Whitaker waited 15 minutes to find his wave, promptly scoring an 8.9 for the first deep tuberide of the day before Tom’s mate Jay Thompson gaffed the highest wave score, 9.73, for three brilliant frontside hacks.
Meanwhile, any karma for indulging in nighttime sessions at Sunset didn’t pay off for Tanner and Dane Gudauskas, who both got beat to hell in their heats by the increasingly angry terrain. While Tanner was able to claw back into advancement, Dane was relegated to doing web interviews for Vans.
Other highlights included Occy-esque backside surfing from a bald Nathan Hedge and a French Marc Lacomore, Gabe Kling out-tubing a GoPro-mounting Chris Ward, Billy Kemper’s methodically achieved highest heat total of the day (17.00), Dusty Payne’s snowboarder-like vertical speed lines and Jack Freestone winning his heat with maneuvers as slippery as anything you’re ever likely to see at Sunset Beach.
“This is a great swell direction for Sunset,” finished event director Marty Thomas. “What we want for tomorrow is six- to eight-feet. But even if it dies down to four- to six-feet, it will still hold shape on the inside.”
And don’t look for any of that slidey shit.