The view out the window of the "Snake Room" – named after its Mecca-like pull on the local sea snake population – told me the wind had abated. At certain times during the night, it felt as though the island of Namotu was about to slip anchor and drift away into the Pacific, sailing the seas Time Bandits style. But today was more the Fiji we've come to know and love. Groomed, blue and tubular. The best day of surfing we've seen on tour this year…vinaka vaka levu.
Half the field was sent home today. This contest is moving at breakneck speed; about the only thing around these parts that is. With an increasingly dire forecast for the second week of the waiting period, there's a race now to finish the event on Friday, Fijian time on the scraps of this current swell. If that doesn't happen we're here for another week, and the fish will be nervous.
With an increasingly dire forecast for the second week of the waiting period, there's a race now to finish the event on Friday.
Out in the channel this morning Ronnie Blakey's plastic hair barely moved in the wind as the first heat of the morning saw world champ Mick Fanning flirting with a second, second-round exit in a row. Brazilian Wiggolly Dantas had the champ on ice, but butchered the best wave of the heat by fading when he should have floored it. Mick's mate, Joel Parkinson meanwhile took the day off and went fishing. Although, unlike last year when he fished a full days' sail away off the bottom of Viti Levu and missed his heat, today he fished close to Cloudbreak. You can never be too sure, can you?
The other notable heat of the morning was Glenn "Micro" Hall against Josh Kerr. Micro's last view of Cloudbreak had been from a medivac chopper last year when he was meat-wagoned off the island after breaking his back during his heat at Restaurants. Of course, you're well aware by now that the ASP chose to award their wildcards for this season to Owen Wright and Tiago Pires, not young Glenn. While these two had claims themselves, neither had spent six months in traction on a lounge as a result of surfing a heat, and neither were surfing for soup as an unsponsored journeyman like Micro was. The interests of the Tour were, however, placed in front of the interests of the diminutive Micro, and instead of a Tour wildcard, Micro got thrown a bone with a wildcard for this event.
But in Fiji this week, Micro has shown that while there's only four foot of him, three-foot-six of that is heart and this morning he owned his heat and might seriously challenge Parko in the first heat tomorrow morning. Micro famously has an Irish passport but grew up near a little place called Woy Woy, north of Sydney. Watching Micro surf today, making rounds and earning bank, I was reminded of a quote by Woy Woy's other resident Irishman, the late comedian Spike Milligan, who once said, "Money can’t buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery."
Apart from the odd score being blasted out over the PA, the only noise to be heard was a routine chatter of hysterical Fijian laughter.
After watching the early heats this morning from the bar on Namotu, the contrast of the scene out in the channel at Cloudbreak was pretty stark. Cosily packaged into a humming flatscreen the contest is a beehive of color and noise, but out in the channel it suddenly becomes very Fijian again. Today there might have been half a dozen pleasure cruisers, some backpacker flotsam, and a couple of leaky Pacific wanderers anchored in the channel, and that was it. It was positively peaceful. Apart from the odd score being blasted out over the PA, the only noise to be heard was a routine chatter of hysterical Fijian laughter, which cut through the afternoon trade winds. Ulai, in one boat, was laughing with Waqa in another boat 50 yards away, and it literally drowned out the entire South Pacific. They were joking in Fijian so none of us had a clue what they were laughing about, but it didn't make it any less funny. I know they record rainforest sounds to soothe the meditative Western soul, but I'd dare you to listen to half an hour of Ulai and Waqa and not have your day improved.
Speaking of the broadcast, I gleaned a little gem this afternoon. The camera boat had drifted over toward the only boat in the channel full of girls in bikinis, and as we stood there we could hear the director barking in the ears of a nearby cameraman, "No bikinis! No bikinis!" I cleaned the wax out of my ears to make sure I heard it right, but indeed it seemed true. Under the old ASP regime the gratuitous bikini shot had filled roughly half of a 10-hour daily broadcast, cameramen assigned the task specifically, but in these enlightened times here it was, the bikini shot, dead. Not sure if the edict extends to the women's heats or not, but by natural attrition it seems to be on the way out…the top five in the girls' ratings all currently sporting shorts in their heats. Read into that what you will.
The morning had been a false war, however, and once they kicked off round three this afternoon, a truer picture of what might happen later this week was seen. A dropping tide, it seems, floats all boats too because this afternoon was undoubtedly the best three hours the Tour has had in a long while. It got round, it got rippable, and on a thickening swell the big dogs came out to play. Mick Fanning redeemed himself before Nat Young and Kai Otton surfed the best heat of the event…until the next heat was even better, which was in turn trumped by the one after that. Trying to play favorites was tough. The fast-twitch pinballing of Nat Young? The even twitchier and mercurial Filipe Toledo? The sleeping giant of Owen Wright? How about even the magnificent losses of Kai Otton and Bede Durbidge? Man, there was some surfing done this afternoon.
It was the best heat of the event…until the next heat was even better, which was in turn trumped by the one after that.
The performance of the day, however, came from Michel Bourez. I'd interviewed the Tahitian two days ago and asked him about a common criticism of his early surfing – that he oversurfed the wave, that he surfed everything at 120 percent. He looked at me honestly perplexed and replied, "If you can surf at 120 percent, why shouldn't you?" And in pulsing Cloudbreak that's exactly what he did. For a gentle soul, he bullied the wave this arvo, drawing his own line through the barrel whether the barrel allowed it or not. He's won his two events this year in junky surf, one in the Indian Ocean and one in the Atlantic, but back in the Pacific, on a reef, today he brought it home.
Kelly Slater had to be in the last heat of the day. He just had to. In physics, gravity bats last, but in surfing it's Kelly. He's been grinding his teeth over the fact that everyone is talking about him leading the ratings without really having got out of third gear. This is his patch, and he'd been stewing in the tropical sun this afternoon watching all this go down. He also faced what is likely to be the hardest wildcard draw any top seed will get this year, Mitch Coleborn at Cloudbreak. But while his first wave seemed overcooked, he imposed himself enough to easily progress. After all, what would finals day be without him?
2014 ASP Fiji Pro Day Two Results
Round 2, Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.00 def. Isei Tokovou (FJI) 4.43
Round 2, Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.43 def. Wiggolly Dantas (AUS) 11.60
Round 2, Heat 3: Glenn Hall (AUS) 11.76 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 9.97
Round 2, Heat 4: Nat Young (USA) 14.67 def. Brett Simpson (USA) 11.17
Round 2, Heat 5: Tiago Pires (PRT) 13.87 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 7.40
Round 2, Heat 6: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 14.37 def. Dion Atkinson (AUS) 14.20
Round 2, Heat 7: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 13.10 def. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 12.93
Round 2, Heat 8: Kolohe Andino (USA) 12.70 def. Aritz Aranburu (EUK) 10.83
Round 2, Heat 9: Kai Otton (AUS) 14.10 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 11.10
Round 2, Heat 10: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 12.90 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 12.50
Round 2, Heat 11: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 14.10 def. Travis Logie (ZAF) 11.96
Round 2, Heat 12: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 14.53 def. Mitch Crews (AUS) 9.70
Round 3, Heat 1: Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.07 def. Alejo Muniz (BRA) 8.44
Round 3, Heat 2: Nat Young (USA) 16.33 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 13.20
Round 3, Heat 3: Michel Bourez (PYF) 18.70 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 10.57
Round 3, Heat 4: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.70 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 12.43
Round 3, Heat 5: Owen Wright (AUS) 16.16 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 15.93
Round 3, Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.33 def. Mitch Coleborn (AUS) 9.43