The Fiji Pro, stop No. 5 of 11 on the 2016 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour, commenced today and the world’s best surfers took to the water in Round 1 of the competition at Cloudbreak. The WSL Top 34 battled in building four-to-six foot (1 – 2 metre) waves to earn a direct advance to Round 3 and avoid elimination Round 2.
Jordy Smith (ZAF), one of the day’s top performers, took a decisive win over opponents Taj Burrow (AUS) and Adrian Buchan (AUS) with the highest two-wave heat total of the day (16.67). Smith took advantage of the improving conditions and unleashed two power turns that netted him an excellent 9-point ride and the lead. Burrow was left in a combination situation and out of the race while Buchan trailed 1.23 points behind Smith. Buchan found an opportunity on his final wave but wasn’t able to stay on his feet and will join Burrow in Round 2, despite his strong performance.
“The waves are flipping cooking and it’s going bonkers right now,” said Smith. “I’ve been waiting all year for conditions like this. It started pumping right when I paddled out and everyone was having opportunities. I feel comfortable when you get a lot of chances and that’s really happening today, it’s on! Every single person out here is loving it here and we’ve the got the people of Fiji to thank for that.”
11-time WSL Champion Kelly Slater (USA) faced Kolohe Andino (USA) and current No. 4 on the Jeep Leaderboard, Sebastian Zietz (HAW), in the final heat of the day. Slater, four-time Fiji Pro winner, found the day’s top single-wave score, an excellent 9.03, on his fifth wave for a solid 16.13 heat total and the advantage. Zietz was left in need of two big scores to find his way back into the heat while Andino was searching for a 7.74 as the clock wound down. Despite a last-minute attempt from Andino, Slater clinched his first Round 1 win since Portugal in 2015 and the direct advance to Round 2.
“It felt good to win a heat,” said Slater. “I didn’t see Kolohe’s wave but I knew I would have to hammer the lip on a few waves, and then I got that good one. It felt nice to be behind and come back and grab the lead – my year starts now really. I know the reef real well here and the intricacies and the things that play into it. Last year I just couldn’t figure it out so we’ll see what happens this year.”
Following a brief absence from the world stage, three-time WSL Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) returned to competition today and faced Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) and Kai Otton (AUS) in Heat 8. Dantas showed variety and power, opening up with a score in the excellent range to claim the Round 1 win, sending his Australian opponents to elimination Round 2.
“It’s qUite hard out there, you have to really choose the good ones,” Dantas said. “I just tried to make big turns with some power. I’m just having fun and enjoying myself. It’s my fourth time here in Fiji and I just love this place as a goofy – it’s the best place ever.”
Keanu Asing (HAW) secured his first heat win of the 2016 season by taking down current Jeep Ratings’ Leader Matt Wilkinson (AUS) and CT veteran Josh Kerr (AUS) in Round 1 Heat 4. With multiple lead changes through the heat, the three surfers battled wave for wave to gain control. Wilkinson was in first place with three minutes remaining but Asing pulled through a deep barrel to earn a 7.07 and capture the top spot over the current World No. 1. Both Wilkinson and Kerr were given one last opportunity in the final minute, but could not close the gap on the Hawaiian.
“I just tried to surf as best as I could and I got the score,” said Asing. “I am pretty stoked. This is the first heat I’ve made all year. I’ve felt like I’ve been right there and I’ve been performing well, but I just haven’t really put together the heat I wanted to. I am trying to find my rhythm this year and hopefully make more heats.”
Adriano de Souza (BRA), reigning WSL Champion, took down event wildcard and local favorite Tevita Gukilau (FJI) and 2016 WSL Rookie Kanoa Igarashi (USA) in Round 1 Heat 6. Gukilau, who earned his place by winning the event trails, charged against the defending World Champion, but could not close the 3.56-point gap needed to advance to Round 3. Gukilau and Igarashi will be sent to elimination Round 2, where they will compete again to avoid early elimination from the event.
“For me it is such a pleasure to be back in Fiji,” De Souza said. “I am trying to enjoy being here and surf the best that I can. I was so nervous during that heat because there were not many opportunities. At the start I made a lot of mistakes, but remembered to take the pressure off of myself and just try to do my best. After that I started to improve and get the momentum. I am happy to make that heat against Tevita and Kanoa because they surfed so well.”
An all-Brazilian, all-goofy-footer match-up in Round 1 Heat 5 saw an intense clash between Miguel Pupo (BRA), 2015 WSL Rookie of the Year Italo Ferreira (BRA) and 2016 Rookie Alex Ribeiro (BRA). Ferreira set the tone with a solid 7.50 opening ride, but lost the advantage to Pupo. Ferreira answered back and unleashed massive carves to lock in a 7.60 and take back the lead. Needing an 8.10, Pupo got to his feet with less than a second before the final buzzer and was awarded an excellent 8.23 to defeat Ferreira and take the win. Pupo will advance to Round 3, while Ferreira and Ribeiro will surf again in Round 2.
“I made a couple of mistakes in the heat, but my board felt good,” Pupo said. “At the last second I had to believe. I knew I had to make the drop and soon as I dropped the wave caught me and I had to adjust. There was a lot of foam so it was hard to see, but right as I came out I saw an opportunity to do a turn. You never know if you are going to get the score, but you have to give your best. I am feeling healthy and happy and glad to make this heat.”
John John Florence (HAW) fought through the opening heat of Round 1 and defeated Alejo Muniz (BRA) and rookie Davey Cathels (AUS). The close heat saw Florence edge out Muniz by only 1.00 point and Cathels by only 1.73 points. Florence will advance to Round 3, while Muniz and Cathels are sent to Round 2.
“Always pumped to come back to Fiji and compete,” Florence said. “You sometimes feel like a guinea pig having the first heat of the contest and there was a lot of water on the reef for us so it wasn’t classic Cloudbreak conditions. Davey (Cathels) and Alejo (Muniz) are super deadly on their backhands so it really came down to making the most of my opportunities. Stoked to be into Round 3.”
Jadson Andre (BRA) stormed into the lead with a 14.60 heat total against Gabriel Medina (BRA), 2014 WSL Champion and former event winner, and injury replacement Stuart Kennedy (AUS) in Round 1 Heat 3. Kennedy found a 5.17 and a 7.50, but could not secure the 7.10 score needed to defeat Andre. Medina stayed the most active throughout the heat by attempting many progressive maneuvers, but could not break through the 6-point range and will surf again in Round 2.
“That was a great heat for me,” Andre said. “As everyone knows, I had a slow start to the year because of my ankle injury taking me out of Western Australia and I probably should not have surfed at Rio, but I wanted to surf in front of my family and the Brazilian crowd. I got worse after Rio, so I have been working to get back in form with my team and doctors. It is great to say that I am not one-hundred percent yet because I just had my best heat of the year. I feel great and it is amazing to be back in Fiji.”
Jeremy Flores (FRA), 2015 Fiji Pro Semifinalist, sailed through his opening heat against Nat Young (USA), former Fiji Pro runner-up, and replacement surfer Dusty Payne (HAW). Flores’ solid turns earned him the direct advance to Round 3 with a 12.67 heat score.
“It feels great to get back to a proper reefbreak on tour,” Flores said. “I feel like I have been surfing well this year and the results have still been hard to come by. I’m probably strongest in reef breaks, having grown up on Reunion Island, and I think this is an opportunity to put in a solid result.”
When competition recommences, up first will be Italo Ferreira (BRA) against Tevita Gukilau (FJI) in the opening heat of the elimination Round 2.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow at 6:30am local time for a possible 7am start.
The Surfline forecast is calling for:
Fun to mid size SW swell mix builds Sunday before slowly easing through Monday. At this point the surf looks fairly small for the 7th-10th with a couple of modest pulses of SW swell during that time, but with periods of onshore flow also expected for the middle to second half of the week. The last few days of the waiting period continue to hold better potential for larger surf, although we remain lower confidence on any specifics this far out.
For more information, check out WorldSurfLeague.com
Fiji Pro Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: John John Florence (HAW) 10.33, Alejo Muniz (BRA) 9.33, Davey Cathels (AUS) 8.60
Heat 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.76, Ryan Callinan (AUS) 12.56, Jack Freestone (AUS) 9.94
Heat 3: Jadson Andre (BRA) 14.60, Stuart Kennedy (AUS) 12.67, Gabriel Medina (BRA) 12.26
Heat 4: Keanu Asing (HAW) 13.04, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 12.56, Josh Kerr (AUS) 10.26
Heat 5: Miguel Pupo (BRA) 15.23, Italo Ferreira (BRA) 15.10, Alex Ribeiro (BRA) 8.63
Heat 6: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 11.73, Tevita Gukilau (FJI) 8.17, Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 4.84
Heat 7: Matt Banting (AUS) 10.34, Julian Wilson (AUS) 9.16, Conner Coffin (USA) 3.57
Heat 8: Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 15.60, Mick Fanning (AUS) 11.90, Kai Otton (AUS) 8.47
Heat 9: Jeremy Flores (BRA) 12.67, Nat Young (USA) 9.70, Dusty Payne (HAW) 8.46
Heat 10: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 16.67, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 15.44, Taj Burrow (AUS) 10.44
Heat 11: Adam Melling (AUS) 11.26, Michel Bourez (PYF) 11.14, Caio Ibelli (BRA) 8.60
Heat 12: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.13, Kolohe Andino (USA) 15.90, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 12.60
Fiji Pro Round 2 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Tevita Gukilau (FJI)
Heat 2: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. Alex Ribeiro (BRA)
Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Ryan Callinan (AUS)
Heat 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Alejo Muniz (BRA)
Heat 5: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Kai Otton (AUS)
Heat 6: Nat Young (USA) vs. Dusty Payne (HAW)
Heat 7: Caio Ibelli (BRA) vs. Taj Burrow (AUS)
Heat 8: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) vs. Kanoa Igarashi (USA)
Heat 9: Kolohe Andino (USA) vs. Josh Kerr (AUS)
Heat 10: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Stuart Kennedy (AUS)
Heat 11: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Jack Freestone (AUS)
Heat 12: Conner Coffin (USA) vs. Davey Cathels (USA)