There are claw marks all over the drywall of Owen Wright's bure on Namotu Island. All week he's been waiting for the day, visualizing himself locked inside the blue wormholes of Cloudbreak, both his paws dragging in the wall to hold him inside there as long as humanly possible and spare him from the horrors of living in a world that isn't a tropical tube.
Well, Owen Wright got himself really barreled today. He got so barreled that if time really does stand still in the tube, he was in there so long he may actually even be younger right now than he was when he paddled out this morning.
After the tubular and numerical heroics of yesterday afternoon with tubes and tens galore, this morning was a little "morning-after," with the surfers trying to recalibrate to a dropping swell and a high tide. The Quarters, as such, were a little flat. The complete absence of 10-point rides and perfect heats was, of course, a shameful blight on the sport. The Quarters were the most one-sided and went with form, the most dramatic moment saved for the last heat when Kai Otton got a sobering reminder that this delicate orbit of man, wave, and reef has the potential to go very wrong when one gets driven into reef by wave. He lived, and eventually, laughed.
He got so barreled that if time really does stand still in the tube, he was in there so long he may actually even be younger right now than he was when he paddled out this morning.
But as the tide drained and the Semis were sent out there were signs that something special was brewing. Julian Wilson at the start of the day looked the most likely finalist from the top half of the draw, the guy who was pushing back hardest at the wave. There was little subtle about what's been happening out there the past two days, and the one truism is that the strongest surfers were winning. On the bottom half of the draw Jeremy Flores proved the exception, surfing way above his weight and proving two things–that he's one of the top five tube riders anywhere in the world, and that his major malfunctions from last year are ancient history. He's now a repository of good vibes and goodwill to all men. He was unlucky to go down to Owen in the second Semi.
There was no hint of the fireworks that were yet to come when the Final started, but there was a statement of intent. Owen opened with real hustle. His first wave was only a 7.5, but he surfed it with energy. It was his sixth heat in two days, yet he raced out like a greyhound after a rabbit, and you felt that if the waves cooperated, he was ready to put on a show.
And what a show it was. It was hard to argue with either of his two tens, and it was hard to argue that after repeating the feat two days in a row, he wasn't the deserving winning of the Fiji Pro. This is a big man's contest and a big man won it. He's a popular guy on the island of Namotu, Big Ow, and the Fijian girls quickly made a beeline for him after the hooter went and crushed his long frame in embrace. In the chaos that ensued after Owen's perfect win, the Fijian longboat he was on even T-boned a ski, although no one seemed to worry too much, because, ya know… Oweeeeeeeen!
Owen's win was long overdue. Ever since he returned from a back injury last year–possibly the only back injury ever inflicted while being massaged–he's looked deadly, without ever being able to convert apparent form into concrete numbers. Well, that all changed today, and you get the feeling that just like he did in 2011 when he made three finals in a row–winning New York and losing Tahiti and Trestles, all against Kelly–he might just get an unholy roll going here. Look out Tahiti. Owen's already been there twice this year and after today would have to start the event as favorite.
There also seems to be a turnaround in fortunes for pro surfing's owners…actually, its owner, who I paddled past in the lineup surfing Namotu lefts a few mornings ago. Running into Dirk Ziff out there on a longboard was probably unsurprising. The break was awash with billionaires that morning. With Google's Larry Page also out there in what looked like some kind of full-body drysuit, it took the net worth of the Namotu lineup that morning to somewhere near $33 billion, of which I was contributing about $800. Dirk paddled past, said hi, then made his way out to Parko and Kai Otton and sat up on his board for a chat. The silent investor behind the WSL, despite never having spoken publicly on his ownership, has a good relationship with the surfers. They like him. They feel he has a genuine interest in making this thing work, and they have no worries about him taking his investment money out on a whim and putting it in pork bellies or frozen concentrated orange juice. They sense it's going somewhere.
Now, without seeing the books and without knowing beyond supposition how the WSL is traveling financially, there's a sense from the outside-in that it's finally getting a toehold. They've got a young world champ from a new territory, they've got a whole squad of bankable young stars, guys and girls, they've got some nibbles from new event sponsors (there are rumors Corona will sponsor the Fiji event next year), their broadcasts are spiffing up and, as of Fiji, their events are even finding surf. Even the Internet has cooled down to 3500˚C. Transparency has not been the now owner's strong point, and in that vacuum people have been free to speculate as they like about the state of the sport, but here, for this afternoon at least, under a hot sun on a Fijian reef in a far corner of the South Pacific, it seems pretty good.
As for the world title, well this week in Fiji opens it right up. With none of the top five making the finals, the ratings have been royally shuffled and new contenders have emerged, most namely Owen who shoots up to third.
As for the world title, well this week in Fiji opens it right up. With none of the top five making the finals, the ratings have been royally shuffled and new contenders have emerged, most namely Owen who shoots up to third. It also starts to throw a few question marks around the Brazilian Storm. Adriano and Filipe Toledo, world No. 1 and No. 2, both went out early, while the world title defense of Gabe Medina is in ruins. He lies in 20th place courtesy of his upset loss here to Kai Otton, and there's not a lot of flow about anything he's doing right now. On the upside for the Brazilian boys, Italo Ferreira and Wiggolly Dantas both look at home in good surf.
Other things we have learned include that Strider should not wear collared shirts in the lineup while broadcasting, Kieren Perrow really knows Cloudbreak, we want Dane at every event, and that sea snakes eat moray eels. I found this last fact out from Namotu's resident Steve Zissou, Dane Reynolds himself, who showed me a clip of a skinny sea snake biting a giant moray eel on the face, waiting for it to die, then unhinging its jaw and swallowing the giant eel whole. Anyone on the island who watched the clip suddenly saw the cute Fijian inhabitants in a completely new light. That said, with the bacchanalian party going on Namotu right now, Owen Wright will be probably be wearing sea snakes as a victory necklace later tonight.
WATCH: Fiji Pro Final Highlights
Fiji Pro Final Results:
1: Owen Wright (AUS) 20.00
2: Julian Wilson (AUS) 7.84
Fiji Pro Semifinal Results:
SF 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) 11.50 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 8.66
SF 2: Owen Wright (AUS) 16.93 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 16.57
Fiji Pro Quarterfinal Results:
QF 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.36 def. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 17.00
QF 2: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.37 def. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 7.40
QF 3: Owen Wright (AUS) 16.60 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 12.84
QF 4: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 16.83 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 12.90
2015 WSL Jeep Leaderboard Top 5 (after Fiji Pro):
Adriano de Souza (BRA) 28,000 pts
Filipe Toledo (BRA) 27,450 pts
Owen Wright (AUS) 26,250 pts
Mick Fanning (AUS) 24,950 pts
Julian Wilson (AUS) 23,450 pts