In 2006, Jessi Miley-Dyer was a rookie on the Women's World Championship Tour (WCT). She'd fought her way up the rankings and eventually got her big break: a Cloudbreak.
Miley-Dyer's first year in Fiji was the women's Tour's last. A military coup and, later on, a lack of sponsorship dollars, made the island paradise an impossibility for continued competition and left the men and women of professional surfing wanting of the pristine barrels of Cloudbreak and Restaurants.
So when the surfer-turned-Deputy Commissioner got the chance to remap the Tour for 2014, a shiny blue thumbtack stabbed the little island in the South Pacific where Miley-Dyer had competed eight years ago. As she wrote in a commentary earlier this year, the stage has been set for a paradigm shift.
"When I was growing up, part of the allure of the CT was that we had these amazing waves and we would go to the best locations," Miley-Dyer said. "You got to surf waves like Cloudbreak because you had made it to that top tier. That's why I really wanted us to have a dream location like Fiji and a wave that would challenge the girls; so that the younger girls coming up would look at the WCT like we used to, as the absolute pinnacle of the sport."
So without much time to ensure a smooth transition from the beachbreaks at Rio to the reefbreaks at Tavarua, the women's WCT surfers head to Fiji and into a lefthand reef pass that will be the biggest change to the field of play any of them have experienced in their respective careers to date.
"It takes a different kind of surfer to surf bigger, heavier waves, and I think this event will see a new kind of hero," Miley-Dyer said. "We have girls on tour that we know have been pegged as the one being really good at airs or someone who has a really good power carve but we don't have that charger."
Arguments can be made for different athletes among those competing to take on that particular role in Fiji. For example, while Carissa Moore (HAW) has out-surfed most of her competition thus far, she rides natural. For the first time in her professional career--in fact, not one member of the ASP Women's Top 17 was on tour the last time the event was held--she'll face a rolling lefthand barrel. Left-breaking tubes like Cloudbreak lend an advantage to goofy-footers like Paige Hareb (NZL), Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) and Alessa Quizon (HAW).
At this moment in women's surfing, most professional female surfers have taken on big wave. Last year, Tyler Wright (AUS) rode so impressively on a trip to Micronesia that a shot of her dipping into a thick barrel at P-Pass made the cover of Surfing World magazine. In fact, the level of talent among the women competing for the WCT Title is a big reason why the Tour is heading back to Fiji in the first place.
"To have the girls be surfing so well and to be so accomplished, it would only make sense we would have this kind of platform for them," Miley-Dyer said. "They're 100 percent capable of surfing waves like this and I think some people will be pleasantly surprised by how well they do."
But the competitive aspect of Fiji adds a new element to the game of surfing deep barrels for the WCT athletes, one they haven't seen in their free-surfing.
"This one [event] stands out to me because it's heavy water, it's in that dream location, and it's the first event as part of the new ASP and the new push for us to have a really good platform for the women," she said. "Everyone's going to want to take this one because they'll want to cement their name next to that kind of wave."
Having surfed Fiji in competition, Miley-Dyer says it's "like a dare game." The water around Tavarua is shallow and the reef is infamous for tattooing surfers with battle scars. Miley-Dyer recalls looking down after takeoff and seeing the cutting reef in clear view, inches below the surface of the translucent water. "You're looking at what you're up against."
Up against the reef, and each other, the world's best converge in Melanesia for what seems like more of a renewal than a return. The first female charger of Generation Next will emerge victorious, albeit with a few cuts and bruises.
The Fiji Women's Pro is slated to begin Sunday, May 25.