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TAVARUA/NAMOTU, Fiji (Tuesday, May 30, 2017) – Competition got underway today at the Outerknown Fiji Women’s Pro running through Rounds 1, 2 and 3 in building three-to-four foot surf at Cloudbreak. An exciting day of action saw the world’s best surfers battle in tricky conditions to avoid early elimination and claim a direct advance to the Quarterfinals.
Defending event winner Johanne Defay (FRA) was the first surfer to earn a Quarterfinal berth after surfing through three heats today. Defay, current No. 4 on the Jeep Leaderboard, secured her place in the final series with a convincing win over a tough Round 3 draw. Defay maintained a solid lead while her opponents Courtney Conlogue (USA), current No. 5 on the Jeep Leaderboard, and dangerous wildcard Bethany Hamilton (HAW) searched for opportunities. Conlogue and Hamilton will surf again in Round 4 for their chance to join Defay in the Quarterfinals.
“I’m so stoked to make it straight through to the Quarters so I’m going to rest now,” Defay said. “The two first heats were pretty slow but this one was much harder so I was trying to get as many opportunities as I could. I have a little ‘reef tattoo’ but not too bad, I was lucky.”
Hamilton previously defeated reigning WSL Champion Tyler Wright (AUS) and Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) in Round 1 Heat 3, sending the pair to elimination Round 2. After an incredible performance at the event last year Hamilton make it all the way to the Semifinals by blazing through the draw and causing a string of upsets along the way, including taking down both Wright and 6X WSL Champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS).
“Coming into this event I had so many jitters and I was nervous,” Hamilton said. “Saying that I had a lot of confidence and I’ve been surfing a lot recently. It’s so awesome to be here and I’m so stoked to be the wildcard. All the girls are surfing incredible, it’s so encouraging to my own surfing and keeps me working and getting better and better.”
Sage Erickson (USA) had an incredible opening day at the Outerknown Fiji Pro with Round 1 and Round 3 heat wins and a place in the Quarterfinals. Erickson took down two form surfers Lakey Peterson (USA) and Wright in Round 3 as well as Defay and Bronte Macaulay (AUS) in Round 1.
“The goal this year was to be in, and to beat, the top five,” Erickson. “Going into that heat I just wanted to focus on myself and feel comfortable and confident on my backside. I just wanted to put myself on waves that gave me the best opportunity. I’ve been working with Conner (Coffin) and having his insight out here has been so amazing so I couldn’t have done it without him. This year I’m really starting to believe in myself and hoping to get some results.”
Wright, who has never made it past the fourth round in Fiji, will have another opportunity to secure her place in the Quarterfinals when competition resumes and will battle Hamilton in Round 4 Heat 2.
Earlier in the day the WSL Champion eliminated injury wildcard Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) in Round 2. The South African has an incredible record at Fiji with a Quarterfinal, Semifinal and runner-up finish over the past three years and a near-perfect 9.57 put Buitendag firmly in the lead. Wright battled back and was able to find a two-wave total to get the edge over Buitendag, who was sent home in Equal 13th place.
“I got knocked out last year by Bethany (Hamilton) in Round 2 and she put on such an incredible performance, I thought she might win the event,” said Wright. “I’ve worked so hard and put so much time into my backhand so I can be competitive on it, so winning heats against goofyfooters, and especially Bianca (Buitendag) who is one of the best, is pretty cool.”
“As the injury wildcard you always come up against the top seeds so I knew I had to pull something good out of the bag,” Buitendag said. “I really wanted to get one good score to earn my place here so I’m content with that performance.”
Three-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore (HAW) delivered a series of incredible performances today to secure her place in the Quarterfinals. The 2016 Fiji Pro runner-up dominated her Round 3 heat with two excellent scores and the highest heat total of the day (17.76) with less than ten minutes gone. Gilmore and Keely Andrew (AUS) were left trailing Moore, both searching for two big scores to close the gap. Moore, currently in 9th place on the Jeep Leaderboard, also attacked her Round 1 heat and opened with an excellent 9-point ride for a series of powerful, vertical turns to leave her two opponents Laura Enever (AUS) and Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) in a combination situation.
“There’s still some gems out there to be found and I was glad to start the event with a 9,” Moore said. “It felt good to skip Round 2 because that’s always a scary position to be in so I’m looking forward to my next round. I’m really trying my best to say in the moment and enjoy the conditions we have.”
Gilmore, who previously dispatched Buitendag and Coco Ho (HAW) in Round 1, will take on Weston-Webb in Round 4 and fight for her place in the Quarterfinals.
“There wasn’t a lot of opportunity out there today,” Gilmore said. “I was frustrated with my performance in the second round but I’m happy to make it past Round 2 because there were so many tough factors out there today.”
Two-time event winner Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) came out firing in the final heat of the day and locked in her place in the Quarterfinals after defeating Van Dijk and Weston-Webb. Fitzgibbons’ experience at Cloudbreak shone through and the World No. 3 also claimed a confident win in Round 1 over Pauline Ado (FRA) and Andrew.
“The ocean has been quiet for a few days so that was really nice,” said Fitzgibbons. “It was great to find some rhythm out there and surf some nice waves. It’s a really special place – you’re in the middle of the Pacific – and it’s so different from every other event. I love the experience here no matter what the result. I hope that the swell continues to fill in and there’s more great surf. When you skip a round it’s definitely an advantage so I’m super happy.”
Van Dijk and Weston-Webb will surf again in Round 4 in hopes of advancing on to the Quarterfinals.
Andrew secured her place in Round 3 after defeating Enever and sending her home in Equal 13th place. The victory is Andrew’s first heat win in Fiji and the young Australian will go on to face Van Dijk in the Round 4. Enever’s defeat is her worst result in Fiji and marks the first time she’s failed to make it to the Quarterfinals.
“It’s pretty slow out there so it definitely came down to wave selection and making the best of what you get,” said Andrew. “There’s always a level of discomfort in a wave of this power but I’ve always loved going left on my backhand. I’m so happy to get through that one and Laura (Enever) is such a strong competitor.”
Round 2 continued to deal out eliminations, also sending home Silvana Lima (BRA), Pauline Ado (FRA), who has yet to win a heat this season, Bronte Macaulay (AUS) and Coco Ho (HAW), each in Equal 13th place.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 7 am local time to assess conditions and make the next call.
Surfline, official forecaster for the event, are calling for:
The SW swell that filled in today with fun size and decent consistency will ease on Wednesday. We’ll look for the largest surf early on the lower/incoming tide, with a slow decreasing trend through the day. The swell/surf is expected to trend down further through the end of the work week.
The event will be broadcast LIVE via WorldSurfLeague.com, the WSL app and on Facebook LIVE via the WSL’s Facebook page. Also check the local listings for coverage on CBS Sports Network in the U.S., Fox Sports in Australia, ESPN in Brazil, Sky NZ in New Zealand, SFR Sports in France and Portugal and as part of the EDGEsport Network.
For more information, check out WorldSurfLeague.com
Outerknown Fiji Women’s Pro Round 1 Results:
Outerknown Fiji Women’s Pro Round 2 Results:
Outerknown Fiji Women’s Pro Round 3 Results:
Outerknown Fiji Women’s Pro Round 4 Match-Ups: