"The waves are flipping cooking and it's going bonkers right now," Jordy Smith said after his dominant performance in Round One of the Fiji Pro Sunday. "I've been waiting all year for conditions like this."
Smith was the day's top performer; his decisive win over opponents Taj Burrow and Adrian Buchan included a two-wave heat total of 16.67. He took advantage of a slowly building swell and unleashed two ferocious power-turns that netted him an excellent 9-point ride and the lead.
Kelly Slater was right there with Smith. The 11-time world champion and 4-time Fiji Pro winner has been absolutely on fire during warmup sessions, and looked as loose as ever in Round One.
Slater earned the day's top single-wave score, an excellent 9.03, and a solid 16.13 heat total to win over Sebastian Zietz and Kolohe Andino. Incredibly, this was Slater's first Round One win since October of 2015.
"It felt good to win a heat," said Slater. "To be behind and come back and grab the lead -- my year starts now, really."
Slater is surfing with a little extra motivation. He'd love nothing more than to win here in honor of late Chief Druku Lalabalavu, the longtime leader of Tavarua who he passed away last year. At the opening ceremony, Slater made an emotional tribute to his friend, and let every competitor know that this year's title would carry special meaning because it's being held in honor of Druku.
The fire in Slater's eyes represents a focus we haven't seen this year, and it was obvious in his performance.
Another big performer Sunday was Jadson Andre. He stormed to a solid Round One victory over Gabriel Medina and Stuart Kennedy. Kennedy took early control of the heat with a 5.17 and a 7.50, but Andre came firing back with some strong tube rides and sweeping rail work. Medina stayed active throughout the heat by attempting more than one Hail Mary aerial move, but wasn't able to stick any landings.
"That was a great heat for me," Andre said. "I had a slow start to the year because of my ankle injury taking me out of Western Australia and I probably should not have surfed at Rio, but I wanted to surf in front of my family. It's great to say that I am not one hundred percent yet because I just had my best heat of the year. It is amazing to be back in Fiji."
There were some big upsets today, too, and perhaps the biggest was Wiggolly Dantas getting the best of Mick Fanning and Kai Otton. Dantas showed variety and power, opening up with a score in the excellent range to claim the Round 1 win, sending his Australian opponents to face possible elimination in Round Two.
"It's quite hard out there, you have to really choose the good ones," Dantas said. "I just tried to make big turns with some power. I'm having fun and enjoying myself. It's my fourth time here in Fiji and I just love this place as a goofy -- it's the best place ever."