CJ Hobgood conquers the O'Neill World Cup of Surfing

Florida’s C.J. Hobgood, 29, won the ASP WQS 6-Star O’Neill World Cup of Surfing today in clean 20-to-30 foot wave face heights, making Hobgood the first goofy-footer in 11 years to win at Sunset Beach.

Australia’s Michael Romelese was the last goofy-footer to win at Sunset in 1997, he also won the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing title the same year.

On his backhand, Hobgood, who was the 2001 ASP World Champ, charged his way to victory, gnabbing the biggest wave of the 35-minute final. Hobgood was blown away by his first place finish and the massive waves.

"It’s perfect size and really clean. There was probably one or two sets a heat that were too big," Hobgood said. "Just some macking nuts waves out there.

"My usual experience out at Sunset is just getting worked pretty much. This ranks up there with my WT wins and everything else because I never totally pictured myself winning this contest so it ranks that much higher.

"That just shows you what Sunset can do. You just roll the dice, go out and sometimes Mother Nature is good to you and other times it just beats you down.

"There’s four guys out there, but you never really see your competitors the whole time. It’s Man versus Nature out there and that’s what makes Sunset so challenging and appealing."

Hobgood avoided Sunset’s wrath and negotiated the giant walls of water beautifully, scoring an 8.5 and 6.5 rides to win the 6-Star Qualifying Series Event.

Australia’s Tom Whitaker, 29, also surfed well in the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing and finished runner-up. Whitaker was in awe of the quality of surf Sunset Beach produced today.

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Triple Crown of Surfing 2008

It was a tough day for all O’Neill World Cup of Surfing competitors at Sunset Beach today and Round 4 of the ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS) 6-Star Prime event was completed in 15 to 20 foot (5 to 7 meter) waves.

Eric Rebiere (FRA), 29, a former ASP World Tour member, was the only one of seven European surfers to tame the massive sets coming in at the world famous location of Sunset Beach to advance through to Round 5 of the final event of the year.

Rebiere, who eliminated fellow Frenchman and current ASP World Tour No. 10 Jeremy Flores (FRA) as well as Irish charger Glenn Hall (IRE), found two solid waves to secure his Round 5 ticket ahead of Phillip MacDonald (AUS).

"It is big out there and I usually like it when it is like that," Rebiere said. "I hurt my back four days ago and I haven’t been able to surf apart from my heats so I am pretty stoked to make it through."

While current ASP World Tour Europeans Flores, Miky Picon (FRA) and Tiago Pires (PRT) all bowed out today, pressure was upon German surfer Marlon Lipke (DEU) who had to get through his heat to keep any 2009 Dream Tour hope alive.

Unfortunately, the German ripper was not able to find a good enough back-up ride and was eliminated by Hawaiian Hank Gaskell (HAW) and former ASP World Champion CJ Hobgood (USA) in Round 4.

Lipke, who s back to No. 16 after today, now depends on a few other surfers’ results to still have a chance to make it to the 2009 ASP Top 45 and several scenarios can happen.

If Patrick Gudauskas (USA) gets an equal 13th at Sunset Beach, Lipke will move back one spot in the ratings. If Yadin Nicol (AUS) places 4th or better or Dion Atkinson (AUS) finishes runner-up, the German surfer will move back as well.

However, if Lipke remains No. 16 after Sunset Beach, a big result from fellow European Tiago Pires at the Billabong Pipeline Masters could give the Portuguese surfer a double qualification ticket leaving one more spot for the WQS campaigners sitting on the bubble.

The surf is supposed to remain as big in the next couple of days and Eric Rebiere will be at ease in the solid waves. He will surf in Heat 7 of Round 5 against Hawaiian chargers Ian Walsh (HAW) and Kamalei Alexander (HAW) and Kirk Flintoff (AUS).

Billabong XXL

The Thanksgiving weekend at Maverick's produced an epic feast for many of the world's top big wave riders during two of the most perfect days ever seen at the legendary Northern California surf break.

The all-time action at Mavs provided a monumental kick-start to the Northern Hemisphere winter season and adds to the record number of entries in the ninth annual Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards presented by Monster Energy.

While the swell did offer a number of waves big enough for tow-in surfing, it proved to be more of a classic exhibition of paddle-in surfing at the upper limit of what is possible in that highly respected discipline of the sport.

Photographs of the amazing action have nearly overloaded the BillabongXXL.com website with dozens and dozens of remarkable images of man-against-the-sea achievement. 

The product of an intense mid-pacific storm on Thanksgiving Day, the extremely long-period swell hit the Maverick's reef at an ideal angle, magnifying the face heights of the bigger sets to the 30- to 45-foot range.

While delighting a group of elite local and international big wave surfers, rogue sets broke unexpectedly along reefs and breakwaters throughout the region, capsizing a 26-foot power boat less than a mile from Maverick's, which sits just outside Princeton Harbor in Half Moon Bay, a half-hour south of San Francisco.  Two fishermen died in the accident.

The surf sessions were not without their own degree of peril.  California big wave star Greg Long caught one of the biggest waves to roll in on Saturday, November 29, but straightened out as he was overrun by a mass of whitewater.

Long was thrust so deep underwater he suffered a broken eardrum, eventually surfacing with a total loss of equilibrium.  Thanks to a strong leash and a quick rescue by Maverick's pioneer Jeff Clark on a personal water craft, Long was brought to safety before being swept through the notorious rocks which threaten surfers carried inside the main break. 

A group of globetrotting big wave chasers jetted into Half Moon Bay ahead of the swell based on forecasts by Surfline.com.  South African Grant "Twiggy" Baker proved that his victory at the Maverick's Surf Contest two years ago was no fluke, consistently taking off the deepest and making it again and again.

Mark Healey and Dave Wassel flew in from Hawaii and made the most of the two days of intense surfing.  Rusty Long and Nathan Fletcher stood out as two of the most passionate big wave hunters from Southern California and made a big mark on the massive right-handers.

But the local crew was not to be outdone by the visiting contingent.  Grant Washburn, Skindog Collins, Nic Lamb, Shawn Rhodes and Lance Harriman all took off on bombs worthy of Monster Paddle entries.  Among the largest bombs of the swell was the vast green wall caught by San Francisco's Alex Martins along with Nathan Fletcher.

Photographers Robert Brown, Frank Quirarte, Jack English, Seth Migdail and Fred Pompermeyer have swiftly submitted official entries now posted on the event website. The new Maverick's images join earlier submissions from South Africa, Australia, Tasmania, Chile, Spain, Puerto Rico and other far-flung corners of the big wave surfing world, representing the biggest waves challenged this year.

The Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards runs on an annual cycle through the last day of winter in March, with the gala awards ceremony is held in Southern California each April.  The event features over $130,000 in cash and prizes including $15,000 for the winner of the Monster Paddle division.

Other categories include the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year, the XXL Biggest Wave powered by Honda, the Monster Tube, the Surfline Best Performance and Billabong Girl's Performance.