Hank Gaskell

Congratulations to Hank Gaskell (HAW), Tahiti-bound champion of this year's 2009 Xcel Pro Presented by Honolua!

In a tough final heat of 4 Sunset specialists, Gaskell, 23, showed poise, patience, and smart wave selection to edge out runner-up Pancho Sullivan, third place Myles Padaca, and fourth place finisher Shane Beschen.

"It's an amazing start for my winter - I've never had a result this good in my life," the soft-spoken Gaskell told Xcel after the winner's ceremony on the beach.

Sunday's NW swell declined only slightly for the morning's semi-finals and finals heats, with Sunset clean and delivering 6' to 10' faces on the west peak. Swell conditions and extended heat times challenged competitors to be patient and find workable faces with scoring potential.

Solid off-the-top turns put Gaskell ahead of last year's Xcel Pro winner Pancho Sullivan, whose trademark frontside hacks weren't enough to get him past the up-and-comer from Hana. Gaskell's consistently steady performances produced heat wins in Rounds 2, 3, and the quarterfinals, silently working his way into a final where Sullivan appeared to have the momentum needed to defend his '08 Xcel Pro championship.

Displaying an aggressive, determined style that made him a standout through the competition, Sullivan seemed poised for a record fifth Xcel Pro title. However, 35 minutes and some open-face sets gave Gaskell the opportunities needed to earn his first big WQS win.

"I felt good out there today," Gaskell continued. "I was trying to get the middle runner waves and just do my own thing."

Scoring waves from all four finalists led to a tight call as the winner was unclear until the beachside ceremony's check and lei presentation.

Gaskell will appear next in the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, which continues the North Shore winter season at Haleiwa with the Reef Hawaiian Pro from November 12 through 23.

The 2009 Xcel Pro win earns Gaskell $5,000, 500 ASP WQS points, and an all-expenses-paid trip to Tahiti with entry into the 2010 VonZipper Trials at Teahupoo.

The winner of the VonZipper Trials is wild-carded into the prestigious WCT Billabong Pro Tahiti.

"I'm really excited for Chopes," Gaskell said when asked about the Trials trip. "I haven't been there yet - it'll be a new experience at one of the best waves in the world. I can't wait."

Heat results, photos, and daily video recaps are all available at the official event Web site at xcelpro.xcelwetsuits.com.


SOURCE: Xcel