SANTA CRUZ -- Australian 24-year-old Matt Wilkinson took two heats decided by less than 1.5 points at the Coldwater Classic on Monday, earning his best result of the year and some new friends on the cliff at Steamer Lane.
After he cracked a series of backhand blasts in his afternoon heat against Damien Hobgood and an aggressive Adriano De Souza, Wilkinson looked up on the cliff to a group of fans cheering for him.
"What did I get for that one?" Wilkinson asked.
"A nine!" someone yelled.
"That's it?" Wilkinson asked, laughing.
For Wilkinson, who is No. 30 in the world and on the verge of not qualifying for the 2013 World Tour, it was no laughing matter when he faced Owen Wright on Monday morning. If he didn't get past Wright, he might not have enough points to stay on tour.
In crisp shoulder-high waves, the two long-haired goofyfoots had a familiar clash, having grown up competing against each other in Australia. Now elite Rip Curl team riders, they also were staying at the same house in Santa Cruz.
Wright needed a 7.07 with 13 minutes remaining. Wright caught a decent right and bashed it with less than a minute left.
The horn sounded to end the heat, but the scores had not dropped on Wright's last wave.
Unsure who won, Wilkinson walked up the staircase and clutched the metal railing in anticipation of the score on the loudspeaker. It was a 6.23. Wilkinson advanced.
"I'm shaking right now.
"It's massive for me. It's the first time I've made it passed the first round this year. I really need points," he said.
Wilkinson, who won the Coldwater in 2010, later tweeted to his 16,620 followers, "Oh that felt very nice."
Wright, Yadin Nichol, C.J. Hobgood and Pat Gudauskas were the only surfers knocked out of the competition during Round 3 Monday. The three-man, no-elimination Round 4 also was completed, setting the stage for Round 5 and the quarterfinals on the last day of competition.
Temperatures soared to 84 degrees in the air and 58 in the water Monday.
The highest heat score belonged to Brazilian Adriano De Souza, who attacked waves on his forehand and took inside position from Wilkinson several times in high-tide waves at the Slot. World No. 1 Joel Parkinson continued to look sharp, along with fellow Australian Taj Burrow.
Burrow has quietly won all his heats and threw one of the biggest maneuvers of the day, a huge blow tail with his back foot completely off the board.
"Even on the good ones, they were tricky to ride," Burrow said. "It's kind of fun getting a hold of that ledgy, warbly part (of the wave) and just throwing yourself into it."
World No. 2 Kelly Slater had a wild heat in which he placed third with some big turns, falls, and a board change. He creased his four-fin Channel Islands Fred Rubble model, so his caddy tossed him a new board off the cliff.
It was within the rules only because it was thrown on to the west side of the Slot and not into the lineup.
Jamilah Star, a Santa Cruz big-wave surfer, jumped in the water in a bikini and retrieved Slater's board.
"I was all over the place," Slater said after the heat. He said he preferred the new board, which he rode to victory at the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles in September.
The board "felt glued to my feet," Slater said.
Contest organizers plan to make a call for Round 5 at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday for a potential 6:45 a.m. start.
Gretchen Wegrich contributed to this report.
Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter on Twitter at Twitter.com/sbaxter_sc
O'NEILL COLDWATER CLASSIC
Heat 9: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 9.50 def. Yadin Nicol (AUS) 8.66
Heat 10: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 14.83 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 14.00
Heat 11: Damien Hobgood (USA) 14.26 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.56
Heat 12: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 16.97 def. Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 15.23
Heat 1: Taj Burrow 15.47 (AUS), Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.13, Travis Logie (ZAF) 12.67
Heat 2: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 14.77, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 11.93, Alejo Muniz (BRA) 7.37
Heat 3: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 15.87, Michel Bourez (PYF) 13.50, Kelly Slater (USA) 13.00
Heat 4: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 16.60, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 15.20, Damien Hobgood (USA) 10.37
Heat 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Alejo Muniz (BRA)
Heat 2: Raoni Monteiro (BRA) vs. Travis Logie (ZAF)
Heat 3: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Damien Hobgood (USA)
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Kelly Slater (USA)