Small surf aside, opening day at the Fiji Women's Pro was the stuff of dreams. Cloudbreak was pristine and playful, with glassy, 3-to-4 foot lefts zipping down the gorgeous reef sitting two miles off the tiny island of Tavarua. The women were all smiles all day, even when the swell faded in the afternoon. It's tough not to be thrilled in a place like Fiji. That said, some business was handled in the lineup.
Hawaiian Malia Manuel opened the day strong with her rapid-fire backside attack. The small, clean conditions seemed to be favoring her against goofyfooters Alessa Quizon and Tatiana Weston-Webb. Manuel has had more than her share of close losses this year, but she built an undeniable case in Round One, despite a strong fight from Quizon.
Sally Fitzgibbons won a tighter battle with Bianca Buitendag and Keely Andrew in their Round One match. The Australian is going for her third-straight Fiji Pro win this week, and the caliber of her performance on Sunday was on pace to make it happen. Both Buitendag and Andrew surfed well, however, and if today is any indication, their Round Two showdown against each other will be a close one.
In one of the most anticipated matches of the day Nikki Van Dijk unleashed a fury of powerful backside hacks to earn a precious Round One victory over World No. 1 Tyler Wright and wildcard Bethany Hamilton. Hamilton opened strong with a nice little cover-up, and held the lead for much of the heat, which was plagued by a long lull, but in the final exchange Nikki got busy, and delivered a strong win, looking as good as she's looked all season.
Courtney Conlogue opened her Fiji campaign with the highest heat score of the day over injury replacement Bronte Macaulay and Hawaiian Coco Ho. As expected, she relied on her powerful rail game to take the win, and her clean carving is sure to keep her in the hunt if the surf picks up.
Carissa Moore may have had the most impressive win of the day. Her usual power game was on display as well, but her moves were linked with a fluidity that was unmatched on the day. Moore grabbed an easy win over Sage Erickson and rookie Chelsea Tuach.
Stephanie Gilmore hasn't had much Round One luck at all this year, and during her match against Laura Enever and Johanne Defay it looked like she was in trouble again. While both of Gilmore's competitors had moments of brilliance in the tight battle, Defay was looking particularly strong with a vertical backhand attack she refined back home on Reunion Island, home to one of the best lefts on the planet. But Gilmore's grit paid off again with a come-from-behind win.
Fittingly, there were no losers today, which seemed right with how the fun conditions were Sunday. But eliminations will get underway as early as Monday morning if competition resumes, so things will get serious in a hurry.
Round Two Matches
Heat 1 Sage Erickson vs. Alessa Quizon
Heat 2 Bianca Buitendag vs. Keely Andrew
Heat 3 Tyler Wright vs. Bethany Hamilton
Heat 4 Tatiana Weston-Webb vs. Coco Ho
Heat 5 Johanne Defay vs. Chelsea Tuach
Heat 6 Bronte Macaulay vs. Laura Enever