The many moods of Sunset Beach revealed themselves Wednesday, on opening day of the 2017 Vans World Cup. A slowly rising, 8- to 10-foot NW mid-period swell arrived on the fifth day of the event window, with triple-overhead lumps jumping around off the point and pouring into the Inside Bowl. Strong 20-knot ENE sea breezes further complicated things.
"I kept trying to get a back-up wave, but I kept finding closeouts," shrugged Kaito Kino, after squeezing out of a deep Sunset Bowl tube like a watermelon seed at a spitting contest. "That's Sunset for ya, you can lose with a 9 and a 2."
Kino, who has won at the Junior level in tiny conditions on the USA's East Coast, actually took his heat with a 9 and a 1.63. The Hawaiian is just one of the many underground local heroes who perennially pop up and outperform more well-known competitors at the World Cup.
The biggest highlight of the day was provided by Maui's Dusty Payne, aka The Comeback Kid. Payne, a former Championship Tour surfer, has made a career of buzzer-beating heat wins, and he pulled another rabbit out of his hat Wednesday. With less than a minute remaining he turned his heat with a magical disappearing act on a closeout section.
"Pulling in out there is such a risk," said a bemused Payne. "A lot of waves clamp. When I pulled in I was like, 'Oh man, stay open,' you never know what they're going to do. It was one of the better barrels I've had at Sunset. It was just a lucky wave."
But it was two other Sunset regulars -- Billy Kemper and Torrey Meister -- who once again proved that experience pays at one of the most complicated waves on the planet. Kemper, who is originally from Maui and since moved to the North Shore, stamped his authority with a dominant display in the third heat of the morning. Yet, even two-time Pe'ahi Challenge winners feel the heat, emphasizing that preparedness equals success.
"Just free surfing Sunset is stressful," said Kemper, "but it's fun to surf in your backyard at 10-foot Sunset with three other guys, it's a blessing."
Meister, who grew up on the Big Island but intimately knows Sunset (and rides Carroll Surfboards that are built just around the corner from the contest site), reiterated the need to be prepared. The shaggy-haired, country music fan bagged one of only a few 9-point rides on the day, a gaping tube that fired across the crunchy Bowl section.
"I just enjoy surfing this place, but I've had a pretty rough year competing and it feels so good to end it here. Sunset's all about doing homework, and when you enjoy your homework you get good results."
Skip your homework at your peril. You will get punished. And if you're looking for punishment, Sunset is more than happy to oblige, as it's a place that specializes in dashing dreams daily.