The Inertia for Good Editor
OAHU, HAWAII - FEBRUARY 21: Jack Robinson of Australia surfs in the Final at the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach on February 21, 2024 at Oahu, Hawaii. (Photo by Brent Bielmann/World Surf League)

Jack Robinson, making Sunset Beach his play thing. Photo: Brent Bielmann//World Surf League

The Inertia

Sunset Beach is one of the most iconic waves in the world. Actually, even saying it’s iconic undersells the significance of its place in surf history. It’s a foundational piece of the North Shore’s reputation as the sport’s proving ground — even before surfers were ready to tackle a certain lefthand tube a mile west. Sunset was an entry point into big wave surfing decades ago. It’s  still a threshold younger competitors have to break through and find success at in order to get to the Championship Tour. Sunset Beach is a big deal. It always has been and it always will be.

But after watching this year’s Hurley Pro Sunset Beach I’m not so sure it should be one of the 11 stops on the Championship Tour.

Wild, right? It feels blasphemous just to type those words. If you look at the CT as a true Dream Tour, one approach to setting a schedule every year would be attempting to tell surfing’s story through the waves you select. Waves like Pipe, Bells, J-Bay, and Teahupo’o are equally significant from a performance aspect as well as showcasing plot points around the world, where the sport progressed and grew up. And Sunset Beach is easily in that wheelhouse. But if you watched the WSL’s broadcast this past week, you probably noticed a consistent topic of discussion: goofy footers don’t exactly look forward to competing there. Enough of them might tell you they dread it.

“Back in the ’60s, it was the place to prove yourself,” Randy Rarick in 2019. “In the early days I considered Jeff Hackman the best at Sunset. Then Paul Strauch. Gary Elkerton was the guy in the ’80s. In the ’90s it was Sunny Garcia and Johnny Boy Gomes. And they were bigger, stronger guys. Then, of course Andy Irons. I always felt like Joel Parkinson surfed really well here, too. I think Jordy Smith is still a standout today with Zeke Lau. And again, these are bigger guys. It could always make or break a career because it just had so much diversity.”

Notice anything about Rarick’s sentiment? The most significant surfers he associates with the wave are all regular footers. And while it can still be useful in establishing a younger competitor’s ability to make the jump for the QS — exactly where it sat in November and December of 2019 during the Vans Pro and the Vans World Cup of Surfing — Sunset Beach is shaping up to be a competitive disadvantage for goofy footers on the CT. As one of the five chances for surfers to make sure they’re in the top 20 before the mid-year cut and one of the ten stops for those who go wire-to-wire on a full schedule, it’s putting part of the field behind the eight ball in the rankings. I took a dive through the men’s event’s results since Sunset came back to the CT in 2022 and there’s some data to back me up.

A majority of the men’s Championship Tour roster is usually regular footers to begin with. There were 10 goofy-footed surfers of the 36 to start this year’s opening round. In 2023 and 2022, that number was a little lower at seven and eight goofies respectively. All of those goofy footers were eliminated by the end of the Round of 16 in 2022.

In 2023, Nat Young was the last goofy standing at the start of the quarterfinals, which is an anomaly because Young’s bread and butter is his experience and style on his backhand. He grew up a staple in the Steamer Lane lineup in Santa Cruz – which only offers up the occasional left when Middle Peak breaks on larger Northwest winter swells.

Three goofy footers made it into the quarterfinals this year and Ryan Callinan became the only one of them in the past three years of the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach to make it into a semifinal. If we consider that a Round of 16 exit is a throwaway score for anybody hoping to be in the Top 5 by year’s end and making the quarterfinals is essential to sliding through the midyear cut, then those stats add up to a big head start for regular footers. To be specific, goofy footers make up less than four percent of surfers reaching that standard at Sunset in the past three years. At the semifinal level, Ryan Callinan reaching the final four surfers is less than one percent of that entire field over that same time period.

Three contests are a small sample size in the overall history of competing at Sunset Beach but they are the only three years in which CT surfers have been up against this version of a cut line, where a slow start to the year turns into relegation by May. Even J-Bay hasn’t seen the same level of attrition among goofy footers in the Championship Tour’s past three contests there.

In 2022 and 2023, that righthand point break came after the mid-year cut, where the field was filtered down to just 24 surfers. Three of the eight surfers in each quarterfinal were goofy footers both years and one surfer made it into each semifinal. It’s not a radical number but it shows a lot more parity when you consider those surfers were already part of a smaller field to begin with. And in 2019, the last year the CT went to J-Bay before the cut line even existed, half of the surfers in the quarterfinal and half of them in the semifinal rounds rode goofy. In a goofy showdown, Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira battled during a high-scoring final where Medina put up a near-perfect heat, posting a 9.73 and a 9.77.

Ironically, Sunset Beach has become one of my favorite contests to watch since it was brought back to the CT schedule. The wave and the lineup throw up unique challenges in heats. Most surfers with enough ability to take a shot at it would paddle out and simply survive each wave they can get, but the athletes at this level of the game show off a level of control, style, and risk-taking against a wholly unpredictable wave. It’s tough to watch all that without really appreciating their level of talent. But the wave has long been at the bottom of the list for most goofy footers. And if the past few years are any indication of a trend, it’s all adding up to backhanders getting their asses handed to them in the rankings.


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