Hawai‘i surfers dominate Round 1 of O’Neill

SUNSET BEACH, O‘ahu — Hawai‘i surfers won six of the eight heats run yesterday for the first round yesterday for the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing  — the second of three men’s events of the Vans Triple Crown.

Kaua‘i’s Bruce Irons and Evan Valiere made it safely into the second round yesterday by finishing first and second of their heats.

But it was Sunset Beach local Marcus Hickman produced the highest single wave score — 9.77, and the highest heat total of 17.94 points in the second-last heat of the day in Round 2. He is always a dominant force at Sunset when the waves get serious, but somehow he has never reached the winner’s dais in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Should the conditions stay big and challenging, he’ll be looking to finally set the record straight.

“I’m very happy,” Hickman said after his heat that included a double-tube ride, flawless positioning and beautiful top-to-bottom carves. “It doesn’t get better than that.

“I was riding my Old Faithful board. This is my 7-foot-6 from a couple of winters back. Sunset is such a big area that being in the right spot is more important than how the board works. I had to have a bigger board so I could paddle and catch the right waves.”

ASP head touring judge Perry Hatchett, who has watched Hickman perform over the years, said he is always a stand-out when the waves are like this.

“If you go back over the years and over the events, you’d probably see that Marcus has ultimately only lost heats because he’s lacking a good second score. He’s usually carrying one super high wave, but without a second score, he’s out the event. That wasn’t the case today.”

Dusty Payne of Maui continued yesterday with the momentum that saw him reach the final of the first event at Hale‘iwa last week. Payne posted the second-highest heat score of the day: 17.17 points out of 20, and advanced through two rounds.

“I’m stoked to get that first heat out of the way,” Payne said after his round one heat. “It’s always the toughest one and luckily I came out on top.

“I’m so stoked. The forecast for the next week looks amazing so I’m super excited for the end of this event.”

Round 2 saw the international field open up and Australian big-wave rider Mark Mathews, a recent addition to the O’Neill team, set straight to work. Mathews has earned a reputation in recent years as one of the leading big-wave chargers on tour.

“I was stoked when I saw the forecast and it was looking like it was pretty big,” said Mathews. “I was just excited to get a few waves out there. Sunset with four people is just a dream.

“It’s about being in the right position. My board is probably four inches longer than what I would normally ride so I can get in the right spot. To have that little extra paddle speed made all the difference, especially when the winds is coming up the face and holds you up in the lip. That little bit of buoyancy helps you get into them in quicker.”

Irons (12.33) won his heat over well over Bruno Santos (6.67), Liam McNamara (5.83) and fellow Kaua‘i surfer Jesse Merle-Jones (2.20).

The competition is expected to resume today.

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