TAVARUA, Fiji: The Fiji Women’s Pro, Stop No. 5 on the 2014 Samsung Galaxy ASP Women’s World Championship Tour (WCT), got underway today and ran through Rounds 1 and 2 in tricky 3 – 5 foot (1 – 1.5 metre) surf. For the first time in seven years the ASP Top 17 took to the world-class waves of Cloudbreak to recommence the battle for the title of ASP Women’s World Champion. Hawaii’s Malia Manuel was the standout performer today, securing the highest two-wave heat total of the event so far with 17.53.
Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), five-time ASP Women’s World Champion, was looking to utilize her experience and erase a disappointing Round 2 finish at the Rio Women’s Pro presented by Billabong. Gilmore took to Cloudbreak with Laura Enever (AUS) and Johanne Defay (FRA) but the rookie put Enever and Gilmore in a combination situation at the halfway point, throwing up big carves once the wave hit the reef. Gilmore worked a large open face with eight minutes left for a heat-high 7.33, putting her within a mid-range score of the lead. She found it with seconds to go and replaced her bottom score with a 6.00 to take the win and move directly to Round 3. Defay also moves to Round 3 after going on to defeat Coco Ho (HAW) in their Round 2 Heat 2 match-up.
“It’s such a different playing field for the Top 17 out at Cloudbreak,” said Stephanie Gilmore. “A few of us have been here before on free surf trips and we’ve been warming up the past couple of days, but it’s a wave the likes of which we haven’t had on Tour in a long time. I love surfing on my backhand and feel like I don’t get to do it enough. I guess I’ll have more than enough opportunity this week in Fiji.”
The highly anticipated match-up between reigning two-time ASP Women’s World Champion and current ASP World No. 1 Carissa Moore (HAW), 2014 rookie Alessa Quizon (HAW), and event wildcard and reigning ASP World Junior Champion Ella Williams (NZL) saw all three surfers struggle to adapt in the early stages. With no waves ridden for the first 10 minutes the Head Judge called for a restart. It wasn’t until the halfway point that they fell into a groove and posted some solid scores. True to form, Moore was able to use her powerful backhand attack to post the bigger scores and notch a win over the two goofy-footers. Williams was later eliminated from the competition by Tyler Wright (AUS) in Round 2 and leaves her first WCT event in equal 13th place. Quizon got the better of Pauline Ado (FRA) in Round 2 and will face Moore again in Round 3 Heat 2 when competition resumes.
“When I was 13 or 14 I was in the trials the last time they had a women’s event here,” Carissa Moore said. “It was beautiful and I was terrified and it’s so good to be back. It was nerve racking out there in that heat, there’s so much to absorb, there’s a lot of waves and it’s hard to know which one to go for. It’s good to get the first heat out of the way and get the event started.”
Round 1 Heat 4 got off to a slow start, but replacement surfer Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) established an early lead through the first half of the heat with committed forehand surfing. Current ASP World No. 2 Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) and Pauline Ado (FRA) scoured the open-ocean lineup, notching small scores of their own. Weston-Webb built momentum, adding an additional 7.00, but Fitzgibbons, fresh from her a win in Rio, fought back, notching a pair of sixes on her backhand, securing a come-from-behind win.
“Tricky conditions out there for us this morning but I’m super happy to get through there at the end,” said Sally Fitzgibbons. “It’s a powerful wave and with a little bit of wind on it, you can get lost in the lineup. I feel like I’m surfing strong though and I’m really pleased to move directly into Round 3.”
The final heat of Round 1 was one of the most exciting of the morning, all three competitors opened their accounts early, but it was Malia Manuel (HAW) who reigned supreme. Manuel was the first surfer of the event to register a score in the excellent range for a series of fast and tight, technical turns. Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) and Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) battled valiantly but were ultimately left in the wake of the powerful Hawaiian as Manuel again posted another excellent score, a nine-point ride to secure the highest heat total of the event so far of 17.53. The heat ended on a sour note as Van Dijk had to leave the line-up and travel back to Tavarua for medical attention after a vicious wipeout that left her bruised and bleeding. She was later forced to withdraw from the competition and her Round 2 opponent, fellow Australian Laura Enever, will advance automatically to Round 3.
“I’m super stoked to put in a strong performance in Round 1 today,” said Malia Manuel. “Conditions are tricky, but we’re so fortunate to have an event here at a world-class wave like Cloudbreak. It’s a completely new type of wave for the girls on Tour and it makes things very exciting. I definitely feel comfortable out here coming from Kauai. I have great boards and I’m looking forward to what the next couple of days deliver us.”
“Nikki Van Dijk has withdrawn from the Fiji Women’s Pro after sustaining injuries to her face, chest and arms during her Round 1 heat,” said Deputy Commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer. “She has received medical treatment on Tavarua island and is in good spirits, even wanting to surf her Round 2 heat, but ultimately decided that she is unable to return to competition in Fiji. We wish her a speedy recovery.”
Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW), replacement surfer for injured Courtney Conlogue (USA), came flying out of the gates in her Round 2 bout against Lakey Peterson (USA), locking in a solid 8.83 on her opening ride for a series of committed turns. Peterson played the patient game, waiting the entire heat for a wave but finished without posting a single score, leaving the door open for the young Hawaiian to cause an upset for the second event in a row.
“I’m just taking this opportunity to surf epic Fiji with one other girl in the water,” said Tatiana Weston-Webb. “I’m so lucky to have this opportunity. It’s really helped spending some time here before the competition. I’ve been surfing five hours a day and I think it paid off because there was a swell just like this. I’m super stoked that I came early. I’ve never surfed a contest that’s anything like this before. I can’t believe I’m here.”
Fiji Women’s Pro Round 3 Match-ups:
Heat 1: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), Bianca Buitendag (ZAF), Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW)
Heat 2: Carissa Moore (HAW), Dimity Stoyle (AUS), Alessa Quizon (HAW)
Heat 3: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), Laura Enever (AUS), Paige Hareb (NZL)
Heat 4: Tyler Wright (AUS), Malia Manuel (HAW), Johanne Defay (FRA)
Fiji Women’s Pro Round 2 Results:
Heat 1: Laura Enever (AUS) vs. Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) (Heat did not surf)
Heat 2: Johanne Defay (FRA) 12.16 def. Coco Ho (HAW) 9.24
Heat 3: Tyler Wright (AUS) 14.67 def. Ella Williams (NZL) 6.10
Heat 4: Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) 12.83 def. Lakey Peterson (USA) 0.00
Heat 5: Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 7.77 def. Alana Blanchard (HAW) 3.43
Heat 6: Alessa Quizon (HAW) 14.50 def. Pauline Ado (FRA) 10.94
Fiji Women’s Pro Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Paige Hareb (NZL) 10.50, Coco Ho (HAW) 7.77, Lakey Peterson (USA) 7.20
Heat 2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 13.33, Johanne Defay (FRA) 12.33, Laura Enever (AUS) 3.67 INT
Heat 3: Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.76, Alessa Quizon (HAW) 12.10, Ella Williams (NZL) 7.00
Heat 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 12.27, Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) 11.33, Pauline Ado (FRA) 7.60
Heat 5: Dimity Stoyle (AUS) 10.50, Tyler Wright (AUS) 6.93, Alana Blanchard (HAW) 4.00
Heat 6: Malia Manuel (HAW) 17.53, Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 13.47, Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) 6.76
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!