Stop No. 5 on the 2015 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour (CT), the Fiji Pro, commenced today with the world’s best surfers tackling building four-to-six foot (1.5 - 2 metre) waves at Cloudbreak for Round 1 of competition.
Holding a waiting period from June 7 - 19, the 2015 Fiji Pro opened with five consecutive lay days, allowing the world’s best surfers to acclimatize to their temporary homes of Tavarua and Namotu as well as re-familiarize themselves with the world-class lefthander of Cloudbreak. The brief pause before action resulted today’s explosive Round 1 that bore witness to a number of upsets as well as excellent scores.
First to take to the water was 11-time WSL Champion and three-time Fiji Pro winner Kelly Slater (USA) against 2014 semifinalist Kolohe Andino (USA) and former CT surfer Alejo Muniz (BRA). While the swell slowly built throughout the morning, Muniz successfully snatched the lead with less than ten minutes gone and was able to hold onto it throughout the remainder of the 35-minute bout, relegating both Slater and Andino to the elimination Round 2.
“We’ve been waiting for that heat for so many days,” said Muniz. “It feels amazing to surf in that heat and get the win. I know it’s only the first round but it feels like a really big win for me because I’m here as a wildcard and I don’t know when I’ll be back again.”
Taj Burrow (AUS) managed to take the win over rookie Matt Banting (AUS) and replacement surfer Artiz Aranburu (ESP) in wave-starved Heat 2. A buzzer beater from the tour veteran earned him the highest single-wave score of the heat and a place in Round 3.
“It’s pretty nerve wracking when you know you’ve only got a few seconds and there’s one little wave left,” said Burrow. “I felt like I surfed pretty back through most of the heat but luckily enough that little wave came and I got it done. It was a close heat though. It’s unreal to have Jay (Davies) here, he was so excited when he got the call.”
Rookie Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) stormed into the lead with a 7.17 by connecting a series of clean turns. Injury replacement Jay Davies (AUS) answered back with a 5.00 and a 3.00 to leave Josh Kerr (AUS) in third place. Davies followed up with the best barrel of the day so far, earning a heat high 8.17 for the lead but without a strong back-up score the Brazilian rookie was able to steal the heat win with a late 6.67.
“I surfed this morning and it wasn’t really barrelling so I just wanted to try and find the medium wave and make big hacks,” said Dantas. “I’m so stoked to my heat. I’ve been waiting for the swell and really hoping that it’s been coming.”
Dantas was joined by fellow rookies Keanu Asing (HAW) and Italo Ferreira (BRA) in collecting Round 1 wins today.
Mick Fanning (AUS), three-time WSL Champion, posted a commanding Round 1 win today over rookie Ricardo Christie (NZL) and local wildcard Aca Ravulo (FJI). Looking composed and precise, Fanning dismantled the running lefthanders and advanced directly into Round 3.
“Fiji has become somewhat of a second home for me in recent years,” said Fanning. “It’s an incredibly special place with great people and waves. I’ve spent a lot of time here and you can’t undervalue experience and timing out at these waves. Great to get a Round 1 win and excited to see what the rest of the forecast delivers for us.”
Kai Otton (AUS) kept the Australian momentum going following the Fanning win, blasting his way to a forehand victory over current Jeep Frontrunner Adriano de Souza (BRA).
“I owed Adriano (de Souza) here as he’s knocked me out twice before in Fiji - I was ready for payback,” said Otton. “Not great Cloudbreak today but decent conditions and really rippable. I love coming to Fiji and I’m looking forward to the rest of the event.”
Gabriel Medina (BRA), reigning WSL Champion and defending Fiji Pro winner, reclaimed some of his 2014 form today, posting the day’s high heat total of a 17.13 out of a possible 20 for an unparalleled forehand assault across the Cloudbreak walls.
“Waves weren’t what we expected going into that heat but it was pretty fun,” said Medina. “I have a pretty good board under my feet and was able to surf more comfortably than I have pretty much all year. I love Fiji. I love both Cloudbreak and Restaurants and am happy to be here.”
C.J. Hobgood (USA), 2001 world champion, is into his 17th year amongst the world’s elite and mysteriously donned the #11 jersey of fellow Floridian Kelly Slater (USA) for this afternoon’s Round 1 heat. Following the bout in which he fell short to Medina, Hobgood announced that 2015 will be his final year as a WSL competitor.
“I really want this to be my last year as a competitor,” said Hobgood. “I won’t be putting a jersey on after 2015. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a long career on tour, spent time with friends who became family and have enjoyed a lot of ups and downs throughout. As part of my last year on tour, I want to honor a few surfers who have inspired me throughout my career so I’m wearing Kelly’s jersey here in Fiji. Anyone who has ever touched a surfboard in the last 30 years has been inspired by Kelly (Slater) and he was gracious enough to allow me to do this in Fiji.”
Hobgood will take on Julian Wilson (AUS) in the elimination Round 2 when competition recommences.
Surfline, official forecasters for the WSL, are calling for:
A medium to fairly solid SW swell will continue Saturday and will get reinforcements throughSunday morning. Confidence is increasing that a larger and solid SSW swell will build in for Mon/Tue. Wind conditions will need to be monitored carefully in the next few days; mornings generally look favorable, although we may see less than ideal wind for some of the afternoons.
When competition recommences, up first will be current Jeep Frontrunner Adriano de Souza (BRA) up against local wildcard Inia Nakalevu (FJI) in the opening heat of the elimination Round 2.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 7:30am to reassess conditions for a possible 8am start.
Highlights from the Fiji Pro will be available via WorldSurfLeague.com.
The world's best surfing is broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports in Australia, MCS Extreme in France, EDGE Sports in China, South Korea, Malaysia and other territories and on Globo TV in Brazil.
Fiji Pro Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 12.20, Kolohe Andino (USA) 11.54, Kelly Slater (USA) 11.37
Heat 2: Taj Burrow (AUS) 12.33, Matt Banting (AUS) 11.13, Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 10.50
Heat 3: Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 13.84, Jay Davies (AUS) 13.17, Josh Kerr (AUS) 5.07
Heat 4: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 15.16, Dane Reynolds (USA) 8.53, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 8.50
Heat 5: Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.77, Ricardo Christie (NZL) 9.26, Aca Ravulo (FJI) 5.40
Heat 6: Kai Otton (AUS) 15.60, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 8.86, Inia Nakalevu (FJI) 5.30
Heat 7: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 17.13, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.93, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 10.67
Heat 8: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 14.00, Owen Wright (AUS) 13.67, Dusty Payne (HAW) 7.50
Heat 9: Nat Young (USA) 13.00, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 11.57, Glenn Hall (IRL) 10.77
Heat 10: Jadson Andre (BRA) 15.17, Adam Melling (AUS) 14.60, Julian Wilson (AUS) 11.34
Heat 11: Keanu Asing (HAW) 11.50, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 10.93, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 6.33
Heat 12: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 15.97, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.20, Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 11.47
Fiji Pro Round 2 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Inia Nakalevu (FJI)
Heat 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Aca Ravulo (FJI)
Heat 3: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Dane Reynolds (USA)
Heat 4: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Jay Davies (AUS)
Heat 5: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Aritz Aranburu (ESP)
Heat 6: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. C.J. Hobgood (USA)
Heat 7: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Dusty Payne (HAW)
Heat 8: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Glenn Hall (IRL)
Heat 9: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 10: Miguel Pupo (BRA) vs. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW)
Heat 11: Jeremy Flores (AUS) vs. Ricard Christie (NZL)
Heat 12: Kolohe Andino (USA) vs. Matt Banting (AUS)