"I am feeling pretty good, but I have to admit I was super nervous," said Taj Burrow.
The 18-year veteran survived a tough Round Two match that pitted him against the Top 10-ranked Brazilian rookie Caio Ibelli. The legendary Australian is surfing his final Championship Tour event ever in Fiji, but is hoping to celebrate his remarkable career a bit later in the competition window.
"My nerves are getting to me a bit because I feel extra eyes on me to see how it unfolds," he explains. "But it's a dream result regardless of the actual contest result because I am on my favorite island with my extended family and friends. I could not be happier."
Burrow joined a long list of veterans who stood their ground against a powerful new guard on Monday as eliminations began. Matt Wilkinson, Josh Kerr, Mick Fanning, Dusty Payne, and Michel Bourez all had impressive Round Two wins.
Jeep Leader Matt Wilkinson had to dig himself out of an early hole in his heat against rookie Alex Ribeiro. The Brazilian, who is still looking for his first heat win of the season, jumped out to an early lead with some great forehand carving, but Wilkinson managed to claw his way back in the late stages.
"It was a super slow heat," said Wilkinson. "I went on a few silly waves while we were out of rhythm, but I put up two average scores and managed to make it through."
Josh Kerr got a much-needed win over World No. 8 Kolohe Andino. The Australian has had a rough start to 2016, and looking to make up ground in Fiji. The heat was a close one, and was hotly contested as it unfolded. Andino was delivering solid punches to the lip, and surfing with a healthy dose of speed. But Kerr got the nod from the judges with a clean tube ride and a high-risk closeout floater.
"It was a pretty fun heat to be in," said Kerr. "I didn't even expect to get barreled, let alone get a few."
Sebastian Zietz was the third member of the Top 10 to suffer a Round Two elimination. The Hawaiian never really found his rhythm in the tricky afternoon conditions, while California rookie Kanoa Igarashi put his recent Cloudbreak research to work.
"I came to Fiji early during a good swell and I think that helped me out a bunch," Igarashi said. "That was one of the first heats I've ever had with Seabass and he is one of my favorite surfers, so I am stoked to win that one."
Replacement surfer Dusty Payne got a crucial win over Nat Young in a hard-fought heat. Payne is looking fast, loose, and confident in his Cloudbreak approach. His aggressive backhand attack was one of the most impressive of the day.
"I'm stoked I'm actually putting heats together," Payne said. "I think it's because I'm not on tour and there's no pressure. I'm just having fun and enjoying it. I want to let my surfing do the talking."
Gabriel Medina came from behind to survive a tight match with rookie Ryan Callinan. Medina, who's been looking strong in warmup sessions, needed a good rebound effort after his last-place finish in Round One. He delivered.
Looking ahead, there are some incredible Round Three matches on tap. Kelly Slater and Jordy Smith, who both dominated on Opening Day, will be paired up in Heat 4. John John Florence will be trying his best to send Taj Burrow directly to his retirement party in Heat 10. And Filipe Toledo will be facing a reinvigorated Dusty Payne in Heat 3.
Check in to Dawn Patrol at 7:30 local time live on the WSL website and app.