Tuesday was a bloodbath like no other for the top seeds in Fiji, and as Round Three turned into one of the most frightening days ever to be wearing a red jersey. By the time the day was done 8 of the Top 10 surfers on the Jeep Leaderboard were out of the competition. The casualties, you'll recall, began more than a week ago, with defending champion Gabriel Medina and No. 2 ranked Owen Wright falling early. Little did we know that that was just a preview of Takedown Tuesday.
The upsets started immediately, and kept coming. Michel Bourez and Mick Fanning had the lineup first, and Cloudbreak looked more like a beachbreak early on than a perfect reef. Mick looked sharp, but his waves didn't. Bourez, however, was very much in rhythm. His first wave looked harmless when he took off, but after a couple of vicious hacks it doubled in size, offered him a tube, and a few more targets to bash down the line. That's how the rest of the heat went, too.
In the very next heat John John Florence was hoping to open up some room on the Jeep Leaderboard, where he's still at No. 1, but not by much, and when he opened with a 7.00 all seemed right with the world. But rookie Leonardo Fioravanti, fresh off his first heat win of the season, came in showing no nerves. He came firing back with a pair of 8.5's, unleashing an impressive backhand attack in the conditions that had started to improve. John wasn't able to respond, however. And the Title race just got a lot more interesting.
With John John out, Jordy Smith had an open door to go chase the Jeep Leader's jersey -- something he's never worn. A heat win would have shot him past John John on the Jeep Leaderboard. But Jordy's big mistake came early, when he nabbed the first wave of the match. It was the wrong one. When he kicked out he turned around to see rookie Joan Duru open up with his best wave of the season, a beautiful bomb from the top of the reef that let him unload a flurry of hacks for a 9.2. That huge start gave Duru a lead that he pounced on. He followed with a pair of 6's, then finished Jordy off with an 8.4, leaving him comboed.
By the time Slater hit the water with rookie Connor O'Leary there was a sense that nobody was safe. And Cloudbreak wasn't making it any easier on the top seeds. The lineup was behaving like a different spot with each and every heat. In some ways, it was giving the newcomers a little advantage, as they seemed to be paying mind only to what was in front of them, not what history dictated would happen. For the second time in the same event, Slater looked lost at his beloved Cloudbreak. The heat was a low-scoring grinder, with Kelly needing less than a 5 to turn the heat in the end...yet he couldn't find it. And just like that, another hero had fallen.
Joel Parkinson finally got a win for the red jersey crew in Heat 9, after edging out Jeremy Flores in a backhand duel. For a moment, it seemed, maybe things were going to start to even out, but it wasn't to be. No. 27-ranked Bede Durbidge got the better of No. 7-ranked Kolohe Andino in the very next heat, and the upsets continued.
Sebastian Zietz needed every ounce to get another win for the reds. After a stellar performance in Round Two Seabass had to go back to grinding this one out with a very humble 12.93 to 12.80 win over Wiggolly Dantas.
In the final heat of the day Adriano de Souza had an opportunity to grab the Jeep Leader jersey with a win over Stu Kennedy. On paper, De Souza's impressive record in Fiji gave him a huge advantage, but today that meant nothing. Encouraged Connor O'Leary's win over Kelly Slater (Stu and Connor travel together), Stu looked motivated and lively on his backhand. Both surfers had arrived in Fiji weeks before the event, and it seemed to be paying off. But De Souza never ever rolls over...ever. After baiting Kennedy into a crappy wave with under 90 seconds to go Adriano got one last opportunity to take the heat. But when he blew the first turn, his fate was sealed. Not even a nice little tube was enough to recover. He needed a 7.5...he got a 7.0.
By the time the day was done Matt Wilkinson and Joel Parkinson were the only Top 10 surfers on the Jeep Leaderboard still standing. With a win, Wilkinson, who's currently sitting No. 5, can claim the Jeep Leader jersey. But after today ,all predictions are out the window.
Round Four should take place in better conditions with an improving swell, and there are some great pairings in the non-elimination round.
Heat 1: Ian Gouveia, Julian Wilson, Matt Wilkinson
Heat 2: Italo Ferreira, Michel Bourez, Leonardo Fioravanti
Heat 3: Joan Duru, Connor O'Leary, Joel Parkinson
Heat 4: Bede Durbidge, Sebastian Zietz, Stu Kennedy **