Tavarua & Namotu Islands, Fiji (Friday, May 31) World #8 Michael Lowe (Aus) today defeated Shea Lopez (USA) to win the final of the Quiksilver Pro Fiji. The US$250,000 World Championship Tournament (WCT) commenced this morning with three Floridians in contention, but it was the lone Australian who received a huge ratings boost, as well as the US$30,000 first place prizemoney.
Competition began at ‘Cloudbreak’ in solid 8-10 ft (2.5-3m) surf, with only the first semifinal decided before organizers were forced to place the tournament on hold. The higher tide and difficult conditions led competitors to push for a change of venue, and after lengthy evaluation, it was agreed to move back to the famed left-handers of ‘Restaurants’. Perfect 4-6ft (1.5-2m) waves then showcased the second semifinal, as well as the grand finale.
Lowe, who had earlier today posted the highest three-wave total of the entire tournament for 25.5-points against Cory Lopez, went on to better this in the final against older brother Shea for a 25.7 tally. Having opening his account with an 8.0, he continued to amaze onlookers with his lighting fast re-entries and critical maneuvers down the long walls of ‘Restaurants’. His best score of 9.0 at the midway mark put the pressure squarely on his opponent, and when he secured another 8.7 the door began to close. With the 40-minute decider coming to an end, the sound of Aussie cheers in the lineup said it all.
“I’m glad I didn't peak too early and lasted until the end,” began Lowe on the shoreline, after being handed an Australian flag by his mates. “It was so fun out there and really rippable. It’s been my dream to win an event in hollow lefts, and this event’s probably been the best one to win. We’ve had perfect waves since day one, so to come out winning is phenomenal.
“After my two second places in Hawaii over the past 18-months it feels pretty good not to be the bridesmaid,” he continued, of securing his first WCT win since 1999. “To beat Shea in those conditions, I’m pretty stoked. This place is heaven on earth.
“That’s a lot of Australian pesos,” he joked of his prizemoney, before giving credit to his vocal cheer squad. “It’s one thing you can say about the Australians. They really stick behind each other, as you can see by the flag. There was only me, and three other blokes who had a chance of winning, but they had enough faith to bring the flag out for me, so this one’s for the boys.”
Lopez, who moved into third position on the ratings following his finals berth, also put on an incredible display today. The Floridian's speed floaters and aerial maneuvers off the lip kept him within range, but he was unable to secure the higher points of his opponent. His first final since 1999, where he also placed runner-up, Lopez is primed heading into the next WCT in South Africa, where he collected a perfect 10 last year, for his backhand barrel riding skills.
“It came down to the fact I had priority and I let him go on the first wave,” reasoned Lopez. “There was a big one behind it I thought it was going to barrel, but it was just a little too big and he got a 9.0 on his. That put him ahead and I was just playing catch-up after that. All I could do was just keep trying and do my best. It was definitely amazing out there.
“I’ve got to get rid of these seconds,” he continued. “We’ve got three quarters of the year still, and I'm looking forward to J-Bay (next WCT in SAfr) a lot. I want to get barreled some more.”
Finishing equal third today in the Quiksilver Pro Fiji were two more Floridians, reigning world champion CJ Hobgood and current ratings runner-up Cory Lopez.
Hobgood, 22, began his semifinal against Shea at ‘Cloudbreak’ with three quick rides from the outset. He then became more selective, and together with Lopez, were caught inside by numerous 10-12 ft (3-4m) set waves that tumbled them like clothes in a washing machine. Despite securing two decent scores midway through, and losing a fin off his board that requiring a change of equipment, it was his opponent’s 8.5 barrel that changed the tone of the match. From there he was behind, and while he earned a 6.65 toward the end, he ultimately required another worth 7.61 points in his best two-wave total that wasn’t found.
“I really thought I was in it until the very last second,” said Hobgood. “I was just hoping that last set was going to come to me, but it ended up getting us both. I kept catching the bombs and they’d have a sick drop, and then they were so intense through the inside. I got worked pretty much every wave I stood up on, as well as cleaned up a bunch by the sets.
“Thankful enough we’re fortunate to have the Jet Skis,” he added, of the rescue/assistance they received. “Whenever you were in a tricky situation you could get washed in, take a couple beatings and then they would come and get you. Those sets did start taking a toll though, as I was really tired toward the end. In conditions like that it was you against the ocean, and I guess I didn't prevail.”
Lopez, 25, suffered a similar fate to his brother at ‘Restaurants’. Searching for the long barrels a little too often, he missed opportunities to belt the wave’s lip, as proved Lowe's advantage. Still nursing an ankle injury than surprisingly didn’t appear to affect his approach, he ultimately required a combination of scores worth 10.91-points.
"There were some good waves, but I think I was going for the barrel too much," conceded Lopez. "He was going strictly for maneuvers and I kept wiping out in the barrel. I went for it, but it just didn't work out. He got that last good wave and I was comboed. I wish I could have been in the final with my brother, but that’s the way it goes.”
Also of note today was two-time world champion Tom Carroll (Aus), who made good use of the evaluation period at ‘Cloudbreak’, taking out a 5’4″ tow board behind Tavarua Island’s managing director Jon Roseman’s Jet Ski, and then brilliantly surfed a handful of rides. While eliminated from the tournament by Cory in round two, his rides this morning had the judges claiming perfect 10’s.
ASP President/CEO Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, the 1978 world champion, was on hand this week to witness the Quiksilver Pro and summed it up as follows this afternoon.
“We’ve had great waves and this is the second time throughout the event we’ve been able to have some of the heats at ‘Restaurants’,” he said. “I’d have to say that Mick Lowe and Shea surfed exceptionally well all week. They’ve been very versatile, getting the big barrels out at ‘Cloudbreak’ during the big days and out here, I think it offered a little bit more freedom to open up their repertoire.
“The lineup of talent and performances by the athletes has been exceptional,” he continued of the tour this year. “The level raised about 20-25 percent this year, so that’s fantastic. Everyone’s been calling this the dream tour and it’s certainly living up to its reputation. We’ve had a great event here at the Quiksilver Pro. Four great events now, so it’s been an incredible start to the world tour.”
Official results of the 2002 Quiksilver Pro Fiji Final Day
1st Michael Lowe (Aus) 25.7 – US$30,0002nd Shea Lopez (USA) 23.05 – US$16,000
Semifinals (defeated finish =3rd; receive US$10,000)
SF1: Shea Lopez (USA) 14.25 def. CJ Hobgood (USA) 11.65SF2: Michael Lowe (Aus) 25.5 def. Cory Lopez (USA) 20.1
Men's WCT Ratings Top 10 After Evt#4
1st Andy Irons (Haw) 3612-points2nd Cory Lopez (USA) 29883rd Shea Lopez (USA) 29284th Luke Egan (Aus) 27245th CJ Hobgood (USA) 26886th Mark Occhilupo (Aus) 2640=7th Michael Lowe (Aus), Joel Parkinson (Aus) 25689th Kalani Robb (Haw) 255610th Sunny Garcia (Haw) 2523
Further Information and Surfer Profiles: