Donning the Yellow Jersey this year, Monster Athlete John John Florence was looking to repeat his victory from the 2016 Fiji Pro, but was knocked out of the running by Italian Leonardo Fioravanti. He, along with a whole slew of strong contenders, ended his tournament run in Round 3.
Moving along to the Quarterfinals, we saw a strong start to Heat 1 with Wilkinson edging out Julian Wilson by .70, after several high wave scores form both surfers. Despite an impressive comeback from Bede Durnbridge, who was sidelined all last season due to a serious injury, he was knocked out of the running by Joel Parkinson. Overall, heats 2-4 were much less exciting, with lower wave scores across the board – we’ll blame Cloudbreak for that one.
Wilkinson and Michel Bourez started off the Semifinals in a head to head battle, with both surfers’ scores remaining close together. In the last 5 minutes of the heat Bourez managed to gain a small lead, and after a back to back run by both surfers he pushed his lead margin even farther. It seemed like this was going to be the end of Wilko’s tournament run, but in the final 16 seconds of the heat he pulled out an impressive barrel run and managed to sneak past Bourez by a mere .23.
Joel Parkinson started off heat 2 with an admirable 6.83 wave, but Rookie Connor O’Leary quickly pushed past him with a 7.40, followed by a solid 8.00 around the 19-minute mark, cementing his spot in the Finals, and ending Parko’s 2017 run.
Which brings us to the finals. The starting buzzer sounds and right out of the gate goes Wilko, catching himself a 4.00 wave. Not to be outdone, O’Leary followed on his heels with 8.33 giving him the lead. The two competitors continued to inch past each other with a mix of high, average, and downright dismal wave scores, but despite his strong start, the win just wasn’t in the cards for the Rookie this year, and O’leary was edged out by Wilko by only .90 in the last stages of the heat.
Wilkinson came to Fiji with fire under his feet and redemption as his goal after finishing runner-up on the Jeep Leaderboard last year; this win propels him to the top spot and earns him the coveted yellow jersey. "It's back," Wilkinson said of claiming the leader's jersey.
"There's a long time to go, but it definitely feels good; kind of picking up momentum rather than having everyone be like, 'you've got the yellow jersey to lose'. "Now I've got it to keep."
Wilkinson last wore the yellow jersey in September last year after winning the opening two stops on the tour on the Gold Coast and Bells Beach, before falling away to finish the season ranked fifth.
This year’s Outerknown Fiji Pro Open proved to be a tough road for many of our seasoned surfing pros. Our own Monster Athletes fought valiantly, but sadly fell short of the Gold. Connor Coffin was eliminated in Round 2, and Frederico Morais, Owen Wright, Miguel Pupo, 2016 WSL League Champion John John Florence, and even 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater – who was taken out by Champion Tour Rookie Connor O’Leary - were all eliminated in the bloodbath that was Round 3. But that’s how it goes in the world of Surfing. With steep competition and fickle, unpredictable conditions, you can almost guarantee an unexpected and exciting outcome in every tournament, and Fiji Pro is no exception. No one ever said the road to World Surf League Champion was an easy one.
The next stop on 2017 WSL Championship Tour is the Corona Open J-Bay, running from July 12-23 in South Africa.
Check out the full results HERE!