Cloudbreak Reef, Tavarua, delivered one of the most epic days of waves in the history of women's surfing for the Roxy Pro in Fiji today.
As predicted by forecasters, the swell rose overnight to six to eight feet with some 10 foot (2-3m) bombs.
As the organizers waited for the tide to start rising this morning, to put more water on the shallow reef, some incredible waves were ridden, including a classic from Australian Chelsea Georgeson, who then went on to win her first round heat.
"I'm just so happy that I didn't break my board on that wave before the competition began," Georgeson said.
Hawaiian Keala Kennelly, well renowned as a big wave charger, impressed all with her total commitment and tuberiding skills to win her first round heat convincingly, defeating Sofia Mulanovich and Roxy Trials winner Stephanie Gilmore.
Kennelly suffered a few scrapes courtesy of the coral but garnered a great barrel beforehand: "I took off on one wave where I got an 8.5 and it was a heavy drop but I was looking at the inside and I could see it was going to throw, so I pulled in and when I came out I just got clobbered by the reef – but I got the score so it's all worth it."
Australian schoolgirl Stephanie Gilmore, who won the sole wildcard spot after winning the Roxy Trials earlier today, said she just aimed for second place so that she could progress straight to round three.
"I was confident that Keala was going to win that heat and that it was just a matter of getting ahead of Sof, so I did just that," said a happy Gilmore.
World champion Sofia Mulanovich (Peru), the defending Roxy Pro champion, lost in the same first round heat, placing third, but she convincingly won her second round heat to move into round three.
"This is a really special contest for me and I always expect to have a strong result here, so I really didn't want to lose in round two," Mulanovich said of her comeback. Australian Samantha Cornish top-scored for the day with a total of 15.5, defeating six-time world champion Layne Beachley (Australia) and South African Heather Clark in round one.
"I couldn't believe how much water was sucking off the reef when I was taking off and then just the noise of the wave hitting the reef. My whole focus was on making the drop and getting out of there," Samantha said, laughing at the end of an amazing day.
There were several injuries today, but nothing serious. Melanie Redmann-Carr (AUS) required six stitches in her shin prior to her round one heat against Chelsea Georgeson (AUS) and Maria Tita Tavares (BRA). Redmann-Carr was hit by her board freesurfing earlier in the morning but still managed to come second behind Georgeson and avoid the elimination round two.
In the final heat of the day, Brazilian Jacqueline Silva was caught by a rogue set on the inside of the reef and was ragdolled across the sharp coral: "I was unable to duckdive under the wave as it was so shallow, and it rolled me across the reef, cutting my arms, legs and torso, but I'm really happy to make it through."
Silva placed second in her round two heat, to Hawaiian Megan Abubo, and both move through to round three of the Roxy Pro. Brazilian Tita Tavares was eliminated in this heat, while Australian Claire Bevilacqua was also eliminated in round two.
At the end of an incredible day of competition, commentator John Shimooka, a former professional surfer, said: "That was some of the best women's surfing I've ever seen because of the commitment and fearlessness that the girls showed. That was very heavy and gnarly Cloudbreak because of the direction of the swell and the way it was peaking and barreling, with a lot of water unloading on a very shallow reef. They should be very proud of themselves."
Conditions are expected to be similar tomorrow with 6-8 foot conditions, and clean offshore winds.
Round 1 Results
1st – Chelsea Georgeson, 2nd – Melanie Redman-Carr , 3rd – Tita Tavares
1st – Rochelle Ballard, 2nd – Rebecca Woods, 3rd – Claire Bevilacqua
1st – Keala Kennelly, 2nd – Stephanie Gilmore, 3rd – Sofia Mulanovich, 4th – Laurina McGrath
1st – Trudy Todd, 2nd – Melanie Bartels, 3rd – Megan Abubo
1st – Samantha Cornish, 2nd – Layne Beachley, 3rd – Heather Clark
1st – Laurina McGrath, 2nd – Serena Brooke, 3rd – Jacqueline Silva Round 2 Results
1st – Sofia Mulanovich, 2nd – Heather Clark, 3rd – Claire Bevilacqua
1st – Megan Abubo, 2nd – Jacqueline Silva, 3rd – Tita Tavares