Fuller kicks off Hawaii surf season with championship at HIC Pro

What was such a great start to the event for so many Kauai surfers quickly saw most fall by the wayside, but the one who kept moving through all his heats capped off the HIC Pro with the ultimate prize. Danny Fuller made it a week to remember by finally grabbing that elusive title many years in the making and adding his name to the esteemed list of HIC Pro champions.

In a final heat long on name recognition and past winners, it was Fuller who surpassed his opponents’ efforts and will now participate in the Vans Triple Crown, which opens up today at Haleiwa’s Reef Hawaiian Pro.

But Sunset Beach was the spot on Sunday when the field progressed all the way from the final 32 competitors to crown a champion. After winning their Round of 64 heats, Kauai surfers Evan Valiere, Koa Smith, Dylan Goodale, Kaimana Jaquias and Alex Smith were all eliminated. That left Fuller and Pancho Sullivan as the only two Garden Isle-born competitors in the quarterfinals.

While not dominating his heats, Fuller continued working his way through the field. He took second in the fourth round, second in the quarterfinals and second in the semifinals to find himself paddling for the victory along with three former HIC Pro winners – last year’s champ Mason Ho, World Championship Tour regular Freddy Patacchia and Maui’s Billy Kemper. He may not have been considered the favorite, but Fuller not only joined them as a Sunset Beach champ, but notched the first win in a career that dates back to around 2000. He’s established himself with many high finishes along way, while also moving into various walks of life that have included photography and modeling.

Fuller picked up the best wave score of the heat with an 8.25 and his backup score was as good as any of his competitors could muster. His 14.90 total was worth $15,000 for the first-place finish. Patacchia (10.65) took second place for $7,500, though the title was surely his top priority. Ho (9.70) came up a heat win shy of back-to-back titles and Kemper (8.65) followed in fourth.

While more than half the field was from Hawaii, the local talent really held form in the latter stages. Seven of the eight semifinalists were from the state, all of them looking to qualify for the Reef Hawaiian Pro, which provides the first opportunity to secure points on the Triple Crown leaderboard.

It’s a short turnaround and many of the surfers who battled the Sunset Beach waves this weekend will be making the drive to Haleiwa as the Round of 128 will get underway as soon as contest officials make the call. Fuller will have his work cut out for him from the get-go as he competes in the third heat of the opening round. He’ll be taking on Maui’s Dusty Payne, Huntington Beach prodigy Kanoa Igarashi and Aussie Brent Dorrington, who had some big Qualifying Series results this year.

Gavin Gillette, Reef McIntosh, Sebastian Zietz, Koa and Alex Smith, Goodale, Sullivan, Jaquias and Valiere are the other surfers with Kauai roots who will be in the contest. All but Zietz will start in the Round of 128, while the 2012 Triple Crown champion will have a bye in the Round of 64.

More of the big names who will be waiting a round or two for their heats are defending Triple Crown champ John John Florence, Jordy Smith, Mick Fanning, Kolohe Andino and Josh Kerr.

One storyline to keep an eye on over the next two events will be Oahu’s Keanu Asing, who sits in ninth place on the WQS rankings. The top 10 will qualify for next year’s world tour, so Asing will need to hold off a multitude of worthy competitors to stay in that position. That’s a prelude to Zietz’s Pipe Masters, which will also determine whether or not he re-qualifies for the 2015 tour.

Surf’s certainly up around Hawaii and all sorts of story lines will be written during the next two months on Oahu’s North Shore.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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