The Xcel Pro is the first major competition of the Hawai’ian season. For touring pros and locals alike, it’s considered an excellent warm-up for the Triple Crown, and for those who can’t get in the WCT events, it’s their chance to get seen. Getting noticed has never been a problem for Pancho Sullivan. The newlywed ripped through a talented field to win the twentieth annual Xcel Pro at Sunset Beach—his third victory in six years.
The opening rounds were held in quality six- to eight-foot Sunset, although the waves dropped to a still-contestable four feet by the time the finals rolled around. In the semis, Australian Nick Muscroft caught the wave of the contest when he bulldogged his way through an impossibly thick inside bowl and appeared to be history. But after a few seconds he miraculously flew out of the tube engulfed in a plume of spit. The wave earned him a perfect ten—the only one of the event—and eliminated local favorite Myles Padaca.
Up until the final, eighteen-year-old Nathan Carroll, born and raised at Sunset Beach, was on quite a run and surfed beyond his years in the challenging conditions. Surfing against Sullivan, Patacchia, and Muscroft, Carroll needed to place second or higher to win the HPAC crown—a series of three contests held on O’ahu—and score more cash. After a valiant effort, he eventually placed fourth, and the HPAC crown went to professional stuntman/kitesurfer/pro surfer Love Hodel. Hodel’s a classy guy who wasn’t openly rooting against Carroll, although he was nervously pacing the sand-strewn Sunset Beach parking lot during the final.
Last year’s winner, Fred Patacchia, jumped from fourth to second in the dwindling minutes with a solid backside barrel but was unable to overtake the Pancho train (in third was Muscroft). Pancho, and his massive 220-pound frame, simply out-surfed the entire field with his patented layback power gouges (amazingly on a 7’6″) and local knowledge of the baffling Sunset Beach lineup.
Upon his victory, the three-time Xcel champ claimed in his gravely voice, “I want to thank the Lord, my wife Rainos Hayes—who was my caddy and coach—and all the North Shore residents who open up for these events. I really just wanted to take advantage of surfing Sunset with three other guys out.” Take advantage he did—to the tune of 5,000 dollars. You could tell by his wife’s smile that she knew she picked a winner—what a nice way to begin a marriage.—Justin Cote