Stab’s Live Blog From Round Three Of The Fiji Pro
Rolling updates from Cloudbreak.
After too many laydays, the Fiji Pro is back on. And, Cloudbreak, while shifty thanks to three different swells, was oiled and pumping…
Heat 12, Wilko vs Muniz: There’s plenty at stake, here. Should Wilko lose and John John make the final, Matty will be stripped of the Gold Leader’s jersey for the first time this year. What a fickle beast, Cloudbreak is. After undoubtedly the best action all year in the earlier heats, the ocean completely switches off. It’s a grind and Wilko gets unlucky on what would have been the heat-winner, deftly navigating a big opening section before the barrel runs off on him and records as a non-make. Should he have consolidated and made a run for the doggy door when he had the chance? No time to think about it. Alejo is on a bomb shortly after, getting spat out from an easy position for a 6.67. Needing a 5.33, Wilko opens up with a big layback gaff on a steep, overhead bowl, followed by another solid gaff in the pocket. He scrapes into the lead with a 5.43. You’d hate to be a judge on days like this. With five on the clock and requiring a paltry 2.09, Alejo coughs up priority on a stanky little burger. Bad error. He does it again! Swooping hard off the bottom and kicking straight down. Alarm bells are going off. Meltdown Imminent!
Arggggh! Stop the fight. Wilko lands the knockout blow in the final two minutes, dropping straight into a throater, finds an impossible high-line in the pit, and gets spat out. Nervous one, but consummately handled by the current world number one. He needs a quarterfinal finish here to guarantee holding onto the leaders’ jersey for J-Bay.
Heat 10, John John Florence (winner) vs Taj Burrow: A classic for the ages. It’s as good as it gets at Cloudbreak and the Hawaiian prodigy, John John Florence, strikes first, dropping in and parking it, smooth as butter, in a blue orb. It squeaks a touch on the exit but he makes a clean escape, wrapping one down to the base before – AH! Geez kid – the Hawaiian throws a dagger of a re-entry on the bone-dry end section. Keep that up and you won’t be pretty for long – 8.17
TB, the veteran, all class on his opening keeper, kicking off some speed under the hook for a beautiful round orb. He lays a couple of smooth slices on a weak bowl before riding off the back and straight onto the sled of the jet ski! Pure class from the 19 year Tour stalwart. – 8.00
It’s firing! What a send-off for Taj! JJF is straight into another, shifting his weight forward and moulding his body positioning to the shape of the tube like only he can. Its not a winner but it’s a decent backup score – a 6.17
TB’s on the wave behind. It’s a mega-pit, the biggest wave of the day, and he was always coming out. Perfect control and positioning in a heavy hollow Pacific pit – 9.2.
It won’t stop! Relentless action in the Cloudbreak lineup. JJF impossibly deep on a big, round, double-chamber. Surely not, but yes! He’s puffed out from a ridiculous position – 9.43
Now for the thrilling dying minutes exchange. TB, stalling off the take off on a grower. It’s big, it’s round and…he comes out clean as a whistle with a breath of fresh air on his back. He doesn’t bother with a turn down the line, possibly a mistake, begging the question of the judges. Scores pending. He needs a 9.56.
But John John is on the wave behind, gunning it off the take off through a Cloudbreak dream-sequence. He comes out clean on a barrel that’s still getting wider as he exits. He caps it with a crack on a steep section as the wave blows its load all over his face. That’s surfing! What a sport! It’s a 9.33.
The judges deliberate for an age on TB’s wave… a 9.40. Not enough. It’s curtains for TB, a surfer who in all honesty will be remembered more for his free surfing exploits than his Tour record. One of the absolute greats, an innovator, an influencer who changed the course of hi-performance surfing. Stab wishes him and his young family all the best for the future. Legend.
Mick Fanning outclasses Adam Melling in Heat 9: Mick drags his kicker through the opening section of a real fast one, sitting undercover but not deep enough, before getting off the brake to burn through the next deep section, shooting out of what almost became an almond pinch. 8.33. Ads counters by delivering three big turns into the lip (the second of which was particularly critical) on a solid-sized wave, not finding the barrel but scooping a 6.67. It sets the tone for the rest of the heat, Mick getting the better of each exchange and flexing his experience to progress.
Josh Kerr sends Jeremy Flores on his way: What a treat it is to see two world class back-siders go head to head in playful, hollow Cloudbreak. Kerrzy, sporting a radical Mister T cut, fires the first shot with a 7.33 for a solid backside tube. Jeremy (also sporting the Mister T) is undoubtedly one of the best backside tuberiders in the world and toys with the conditions, but he can’t find the waves. Requiring an 8.00 and holding priority with 13 minutes on the clock, he patiently draws off the bottom, washes off some speed and expertly shoots through a hollow Cloudbreak tube. But it’s well short of the required score. Kerrzy is on the wave behind, anyway. It’s bigger, and with less water on the reef due to the wave before, goes square as he creatively adjusts his line and stalls under a heavy drip of Pacific. He gets spat out of a solid orb to continue his strangle hold on the heat. That’s where it stays. “The judges have made it clear as day you want to see you not the bigger waves even if you do okay surfing,” he says of his strategy.
Heat 4: Kelly Slater waxes Jordy Smith, and gets philosophical for a second…
The Champ Is Here! Yep, it’s still firing and who else but Kelly Slater to jag the first legitimate drainer of the day; a cannoning overhead freight train that pinches just a touch on the exit but not enough to knock the champ off. He comes flying out to rack up a 7.83 before striking again with 13 on the clock, exercising his unparalleled knowledge of the Cloudbreak lineup to find a wave way up the point and dropping straight into a long tube. Again it clamps a touch on the exit but again Kelly is flying through the tunnel and easily busts through the chandelier. If the waves stay like this, keep an eye on the 44-year-old. This could be the beginning of a return to former glory for Da GOAT.
Rd 3, Heat 1: Gabriel Medina (winner) vs Matt Banting: Gabriel is a kid in a candy story in the pumping, playful Cloudbreak conditions. By the halfway point, he’s racked up seven waves to the Australian natural footer, Matt Banting’s one. His first solid score, a 6.5, is worth a re-watch on the heat analyser. On it, Gabs shows us the outer limits of controlled, power surfing, mixed in with expert tube reads. A vicious opening turn gives way to a dream-run through a double-chamber pit and a final hook in the pocket. He builds from there, wiping the floor with the young Aussie.
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