TAVARUA, Fiji, Stop No. 5 of 10 on the 2016 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour, blitzed through Rounds 2, 3 and 4 today in building four-to-six foot (1.5 – 2 metre) swell at the world-renowned Cloudbreak as the WSL Top 17 battled for a place in the Quarterfinals.
With the world’s best female surfers on hand and the rejuvenated conditions, an abundance of WSL Title drama and stunningly inspired performances were logged today in the South Pacific.
Bethany Hamilton (HAW), shark attack survivor, global sporting icon and wildcard into the Fiji Women’s Pro, was in sensational form today, eliminating WSL Jeep Rankings’ Leader Tyler Wright (AUS) in Round 2 before charging past six-time WSL Champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) and Johanne Defay (FRA) in Round 3 to earn a spot in tomorrow’s Quarterfinals.
Hamilton unleashed clean, powerful snaps to earn a 15.47 heat score. Gilmore, with a 14.77 two-wave score, finished closely behind Hamilton. Defay earned a 7.50 to take control early in the heat, but was not able to find a second score to challenge Hamilton and Gilmore.
“Stephanie, Tyler and Carissa are three of my favorite female surfers, so it was daunting knowing I had Stephanie in my heat,” Hamilton said. “I have so much respect for everyone on Tour. I have been dreaming of surfing and competing here, so I was excited to receive a Wildcard entry into this event. I am honored that I can inspire people. I know I am in a unique position to encourage young girls to make great decisions as they grow into women and to chase their dreams. Even after losing my arm, I am still doing everything I’ve hoped I could do with my future and even more. I think I am a reminder for the young girls that they can do it if they set their mind to it.”
After winning three of the first four events (Gold Coast, Margaret River and Rio de Janeiro) and finishing 5th at Bells Beach this year, Wright has established herself as a World Title contender in 2016. Wright’s finish at Fiji will be her worst result this season and only her second ever 13th place finish.
“Heats like that are enjoyable because they are so close, and it was a great battle with Bethany,” said Wright. “I am stoked because she is the greatest human. I am happy with the way I surfed and the way I ran my heat. I actually would not change anything about my performance. Over the last few years I have made reckless mistakes here, and I had no intent to do that this year. I was all about turns and doing what needs to be done to get through the heat, and I did that. If the heat went my way, I would be just as happy as I am now.”
The shock upsets continued when Gilmore went on to be eliminated in Round 4 Heat 2 at the hands of Nikki Van Dijk (AUS). Today’s result is the worst of the season for Gilmore and the first Quarterfinal berth of 2016 for Van Dijk, who will take on Hamilton when competition resumes.
“The heat was not that stressful because I could not hear anything,” said Van Dijk. “All I knew was that I had to better every wave I had. I am feeling really good and feel like I’ve had a few heats this year where I’ve been pretty close. I am so happy to be back here at Fiji. It is such a nerve-wracking and scary wave, so I am stoked to be here and make the Quarters.”
“During the heat I was questioning if I was under-gunned and if I should try to get barreled instead of trying to find waves with less wall to do turns,” Gilmore said. “It was frustrating. I could not hear much so I was going by feel and I did not see Nikki get too many good ones either. That is just the way it goes sometimes. I am pretty disappointed.”
Courtney Conlogue (USA) lit up Round 3 Heat 2 with an excellent 18.67 two-wave score and will also advance to the Quarterfinals. Conlogue unleashed massive maneuvers to earn two dominant 9-point rides against Sage Erickson (USA)and Van Dijk. The result will see Conlogue take the top spot on the Jeep Leaderboard heading into the next event.
“Getting the frontrunner position on the rankings definitely gives me opportunity, but it does not change anything with this season,” Conlogue said. “It is such a long season, so I have a feeling that [Wright’s] 13th will be a throwaway. I am just looking to win this event because it is such an amazing contest and so many of my idols have won this event. The waves are incredible and it is amazing to have this break on Tour.”
Three-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore (HAW) fought an intense battle in Round 3 against Laura Enever (AUS) and 2015 event runner-up Bianca Buitendag (ZAF). An in-form Enever charged Cloudbreak and earned the first perfect 10.00 of the event with her critical snaps and seamless carves. Moore fought back to regain control with two excellent-range scores, an 8.83 and a 9.63. In the last ten seconds of the heat, Enever fought to throw down another big score, but it was not enough to defeat Moore. Moore will advance to the Quarterfinals, where she will have a re-match with Enever, who defeated Malia Manuel (HAW) in Round 4.
“I was stoked for Laura getting that 10.00,” Moore said. “She more than deserves it and charges out here. I definitely knew I had to stay on it and get some scores on the board because she only needed something small. I am having a lot of fun. The waves are challenging, but I am stoked I get to open up on a couple of waves and showcase my backhand.”
Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), defending event Champion, will continue to hunt for a third-straight event Title, after she blazed through Round 3 to advance to the Quarterfinals. Fitzgibbons defeated Coco Ho (HAW) and Malia Manuel (HAW), showcasing her clean carves to put the Hawaiians in a combination situation.
“You are always learning here,” Fitzgibbons said. “This morning when we were warming up it was about two feet and the building days are the trickiest when you are trying to dial-in the right equipment. There was a lot of power out there as the sets kept getting bigger. I really enjoyed it.”
Fitzgibbons will face Buitendag when competition resumes in a re-match of the 2015 Fiji Women’s Pro Final. The South African earned her Quarterfinal berth with convincing victory over Coco Ho (HAW) in Round 4.
Elimination Round 2 saw 2016 WSL Rookies Keely Andrew (AUS) and Chelsea Tuach (BRB) dispatched from the event by Buitendag and Johanne Defay (FRA), respectively.
2015 Fiji Women’s Pro Semifinalist Defay will advance to the Quarterfinals after defeating Erickson by just 0.06 in Round 4.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow at 6:30am local time for a possible 7am start.
Highlights from the Fiji Women’s Pro will be webcast LIVE at WorldSurfLeague.com
High Res Images from this event available for editorial use via Reuters
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The World Surf League (WSL), formerly the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), is dedicated to celebrating the world’s best surfing on the world’s best waves through a variety of best-in-class audience platforms. The League, headquartered in Santa Monica, is a truly global sport with regional offices in Australasia, Africa, North America, South America, Hawaii, Japan and Europe.
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