Stab Magazine | Matt Wilkinson Takes The Yellow Jersey Off John Florence's Back

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Matt Wilkinson Takes The Yellow Jersey Off John Florence’s Back

The Fiji Pro prefers the leaderboard shaken, not stirred!

news // Jun 16, 2017
Words by James Royce
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Quick question. Is Kelly Slater a better commentator than a competitor? This event he certainly was. If you weren’t paying attention during Connor O’Leary and Joan Duru’s matchup in heat three of the quarterfinals, you missed out. And it’s not because of the surfing that was going on (Connor O’Leary only won with an 11.16 total).

Rather, what made that time everything but tedious was a mic’d up Mr Slater. Kelly ignited the webcast with a succession of truth bombs from the bar/booth. Sharing candid input about everything from the reef at Cloudbreak, to competitive tactics, to his business ventures and his competitive future. Foreshadowing? Probably not, but a neat thought to tease nevertheless.

Back to focusing on the competition. Today we watched guys like Joan Duru, Leo Fioravanti and Bede Durbidge surf exciting Cloudbreak while the marquee names (John John, Jordy, Gabriel, etc.) took a seat on the sidelines. Did that make things more exciting, or was it a disservice? Let’s find out. Here’s how it all went down on a bluebird day at Cloudbreak.

If you happened to chuck on a little extra snooze during round five this morning, here’s whose losses you slept through.

Italo Ferreira, whose injury is still a little tender and who couldn’t get past Julian Wilson even though Jules’ backup score was only a 4.17. Ian Gouveia as well, who followed in his fellow Brazilians footsteps because he kept pulling into waves that either closed out or were only quick coverups.

Sebastian Zietz lost to Joan Duru because he tried to play the long con and find a high score in the second half of the heat. And while that’s normally a sound tactic, not a single wave came through for Seabass. “This wave will do that to you if you’re not picking the right ones,” he reflected after. “Expected it to go a lot better than that.” Afterwards, Joel Parkinson, who’s never made it past the quarterfinals ever in Fiji, decided to try to break his streak of bad luck by defeating Stu Kennedy.

The quarterfinals happened soon after, here’s who won and how they did it.

Matt Wilkinson, who won because he was the only one who saw, according to him, “Really fast long ones that were kind of going under everyone. And luckily I had priority, and there weren’t too many waves in the back half.” Michel Bourez won because he’s much more comfortable and acquainted with tropical, backside barreling surf than Leo.

Connor O’Leary beat Joan Duru because, according to Kelly, “Connor’s been pretty good obviously. He took me out, I like to think he’s been the guy to beat.” Then Joel Parkinson beat Bede Durbidge because he was sick of the commentators talking about how he never makes it past the quarters in Fiji.

Then the semifinals.

Michel Bourez was on a tear this whole event. His masterclass (who can forget the back foot stall!) backside tube riding skills beat three different goofy footers. But it could not beat four. Certainly not one who appeared in the final last year. “You can’t affect what Michel’s doing on a wave, obviously he’s good in the barrel,” said Glenn Hall prior to the matchup. “For Wilko, he just needs to do his own thing.” Well, Wilko’s “own thing” was scoring a 5.90 when he needed 5.67 on a wave he caught in the dying seconds. The Tahitian missed the cut by just .23 points total. “Yeah, I’m going to send a few letters to the judges,” Michel laughed afterwards.

In consistent waves of hollow beauty, it’s hard to pick between a tested veteran and a guy Kelly said, “Looked solid in free surfs, looked good in his heats and I still don’t really think has hit stride yet.” Joel was on his backhand; Connor, his forehand. Joel tore apart his first wave, but then could only follow it up with a 1.53. Again, Connor’s smooth persistence prevailed and now everyone’s saying he’s a shoe-in for rookie of the year. Could you imagine making that claim pre-Snapper?

Then Matt Wilkinson and Connor O’Leary met in the finals.

Being Wilko’s second consecutive finals appearance at Cloudbreak, it was hard not to favour him over the rookie. Well, according to Kelly, “The difference between Wilko this year and Wilko last year is that he now plays golf. And if he gets the job done, then Micro lets him play.”

With three different lead changes, it was a close affair. And it could’ve honestly gone either way. At the end of the day, though, Wilko went with the tried and true method of finding barrels on waves that line up and belting waves that don’t — which judges always score something around a mid-eight on. And would you believe it, Wilko’s combined 16.60 was composed of two scores of an 8.57 and an 8.03. Also, Connor hyper-extended his knee early in the heat, which hurt his performance as he was fighting through the pain.

Rookies flourished, top seeds fell, the waves were sporadic, a leaderboard was shaken, and J-Bay hasn’t been this exciting since Mick’s strange encounter. But, fuck it, we’re with Matty, “I’m going to go and drink beer. What else is there to do?”

Here are the numbers from the day. 

Round five.
Heat one:
Julian Wilson 13.34, Italo Ferreira 7.34.
Heat two: Leonardo Fioravanti 14.83, Ian Gouveia 11.33.
Heat three: Joan Duru 17.33, Sebastian Zietz 12.50.
Heat four: Joel Parkinson 12.57, Stu Kennedy 12.36.

Heat one:
Matt Wilkinson 17.00, Julian Wilson 16.30.
Heat two: Michel Bourez 17.80, Leonardo Fioravanti 13.57.
Heat three: Connor O’Leary 11.16, Joan Duru 10.70.
Heat four: Joel Parkinson 13.67, Bede Burbidge 11.23.

Heat one:
Matt Wilkinson 14.24, Michel Bourez 14.00.
Heat two: Connor O’Leary 15.40, Joel Parkinson 8.36.

Matt Wilkinson 16.60, Connor O’Leary 15.70.


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