Wilko tops O'Neill Cold Water Classic

This has been a tough year to be a rookie on the ASP World Tour. Several rooks got the boot mid-season after only five events on the Tour. But 22-year-old, Matt "Wilko" Wilkinson, of Copacabana, Australia, made the cut. With the new instatement of the Men's One World Ranking system, there was no guarantee of even staying on tour. He's survived tough heat draws and closeout beatings in France. And the pressure hasn't just been on for the World Tour, but to perform in the Star and PRIME qualifying events. But he's come through it all, and now won the prestigious O'Neill Cold Water Classic in Santa Cruz.

Villalba/Courtesy O'Neill Europe

Matt Wilkinson, 2010 O'Neill Cold Water Classic Champ (and his first win in some time.)

"I'm so stoked, I haven't won a contest in a long time," Wilkinson said. "It's been a long day, but I guess when it's cold like this I guess you don't get too buggered. I kept enough energy for the final and just got over the edge, so I'm stoked. I love surfing on my backhand and have always felt I'm stronger backside, I'm just stoked to have won this contest."

His last ASP victory was a one-star when he was 17.

Wilkinson made an interesting equipment decision in the Round of 96, choosing to surf on a 5'3 quad. The board looked squirly at first, and it seemed he would be sent home early. But he found a long right late in the heat and exacted more moves on the face than any of his competitors on the tiny sled. Through his campaign to get to the final, the goofyfooter had to take out Dylan Graves, Dayyan Neve, Mason Ho, Dion Atkinson, and then former CWC Champ and event hero, Nat Young.

The swell was tricky on Saturday at two to four feet with mixed up peaks. Rain fell in buckets as Wilko took on Kailua's Tonino Benson in the final. In the backhand showdown, Wilko got off to a strong lead with a several World Tour-caliber backside hacks for a 7. Benson answered back with a 7.03, followed with a 5.5 later in the heat to put a good scare into Wilkinson. But Wilko had the last say, finishing strong with a 6.67 and the win.

Villalba/Courtesy O'Neill Europe

Yet another dramatic battle at the iconic Steamer Lane.

"This is definitely a good result for my World Ranking going into the rest of the year," Wilkinson said. "I'm towards the back of the ratings on the World Tour and I was getting a little bit worried about the end of the year and, I don't know, I'm definitely stoked with this."

Steamer Lane local Nat Young had been the standout in the event, but was put in his place by Wilko. Fellow local, Jonny Craft, who had to surf all the way through the trials made the quarterfinals. Relatively unknown Kiwi surfer Billy Stairmand had a great event, notching the highest wave score (8.60) and highest heat score (15.27) of Friday and surfing to the semifinals. He lost to Benson in a wave-starved heat on an interference call.

"Getting third here is better than my win at the 6-Star," Stairmand said. "It's good to win a bit of money to help with the travel as well."

San Clemente whiz kid, Kolohe Andino, who looked unstoppable in the early rounds, got waxed unexpectedly (11.67-4.87) by Benson in the Round of 16.

This event wasn't the only thing on the line this week in Santa Cruz. There was also the matter of $50,000 given by O'Neill for the overall CWC Series leader. Shaun Cansdell and Stuart Kennedy were holding the top spots as they went through the early rounds. But both were ousted on Friday with former World Tour surfer, Cansdell in the lead. The only way he could loose the money was if friend and fellow Aussie, Dion Atkinson made the final.

Villalba/Courtesy O'Neill Europe

Hawaii's Tonino Benson was inverted and everywhere in the late rounds.

"To tell you the truth I actually didn't want him to do well," said Shaun. "I just really wanted the $50,000. I would have loved him to get into the semis but I would have probably have gone grey by then."

Atkinson fell to Wilko in the Round of 16, making Cansdell the 2010 CWC overall champion.

"It changes my life for sure," he said. "Last year I didn't really compete. I stayed at home and just had a few casual jobs and stuff to earn money," he said. "This will make a big change. I have a little bit of a plan for the money. I want to make sure I am smart with it."

Matt Wilkinson now enjoys the No. 18 slot on the World Ranking. Next week, he heads to Puerto Rico for the Rip Curl Search event, where Kelly Slater could win his tenth world title.

O'Neill Cold Water Classic California Final Result:
1 -- Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 13.67
2 -- Tonino Benson (HAW) 12.53
O'Neill Cold Water Classic California Semifinals Results:
Heat 1: Matt Wilkinson (USA) 9.00 def. Nat Young (USA) 5.44
Heat 2: Tonino Benson (HAW) 12,17 def. Billy Stairmand (NZL) 4.40
O'Neill Cold Water Classic California Quarterfinals Results:
Heat 1: Nat Young (USA) 15.36 def. Jonny Craft (USA) 12.10
Heat 2: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 10.27 def. Mason Ho (HAW) 6.93
Heat 3: Tonino Benson (HAW) 13.26 def. Nate Yeomans (USA) 11.77
O'Neill Cold Water Classic California Round of 16 Results:
Heat 1: Nat Young (USA) 12.87 def. Brian Toth (PRI) 5.67
Heat 2: Jonny Craft (USA) 10.17 def. Roy Powers (HAW) 5.74
Heat 3: Mason Ho (HAW) 12.70 def. Granger Larsen (HAW) 9.20
Heat 4: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 10.83 def. Dion Atkinson (AUS) 7.33
Heat 5: Tonino Benson (HAW) 11.67 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 4.87
Heat 6: Nathan Yeomans (USA) 12.03 def. Chris Waring (USA) 6.50
Heat 7: Billy Stairmand (NZL) 10.73 def. Richard Christie (NZL) 9.53
Heat 8: Adam Robertson (AUS) 12.73 def. Damien Hobgood (USA) 11.27

Related Content