They're already calling it the Druku swell.
Druku Lalabalavu, the late Chief of Tavarua, would have loved every single second of Thursday. It seems he pulled a few strings to deliver the perfect conditions on offer, after all, this year's event is being held in his honor. Cloudbreak conditions were as pristine and perfect as they get as the final 8 surfers of the Fiji Pro were decided. The larger sets were capping on the outer ledge and throwing wide on the inside as they morphed into huge spinning caves...just how Druku liked it.
When it was all done, only four surfers were eliminated today, but there were no losers. Everyone scored, some just a little more than others.
Perhaps it's fitting that Druku's longtime buddy Kelly Slater delivered his best performance in years. Slater surfed a near perfect heat, with two of the best barrel rides of the day. He rode the foam ball through his first cavern without grabbing the rail, yet emerged making it look easy. On most days it was a 10. On this day the judges gave it a 9.77.
Slater wasn't done though. He got his 10 a few rides later and ended with a heat total of 19.77; just short of perfect, and the highest point total of the day. He paid a price though. He tried to dig into one more double-up on the inside, and airdropped into oblivion, breaking his trusty 5'11" quad.
"I had to go on that last wave," Slater said afterward. "I just misjudged it. That was a heartbreaker, but I had a great heat."
Kelly wasn't alone in the perfect 10 department. Gabriel Medina kept his tear going in Round Four with a 10-point-ride of his own. It was a ridiculous pit that came in the first heat of the morning, and set the theme for the day.
Mick Fanning couldn't contain his excitement. He was adding hilarious claims to the ends of his rides during his Round Four win. "That was so beautiful," said Fanning. "Looking out from that last wave and seeing all you guys with your hands in the air, I was losing it." Fanning advanced directly into the Quarterfinals, looking as lethal as ever.
One of the best heats of the day, however, was the three-way battle between Matt Wilkinson, Ace Buchan, and John John Florence. It was magnificent showdown that featured some of the best tubes of the day, and with Wilko and Florence locked in a world title battle, there was plenty at stake; namely pride.
"I really wanted to stop people questioning whether I can go left or not," Wilkinson said after earning the hard-fought win. "I think those are the best waves I've ever seen, so to get a heat win like that and get barrels like that is the best feeling in the world."
Both Buchan and Florence redeemed themselves in Round Five, and advanced to the Quarterfinals with strong performances over Josh Kerr and Jadson Andre respectively.
Florence will get another crack at Wilkinson in the Quarterfinals, and the match is easily the most crucial to date when it comes to world title ramifications. Florence wants to close the 5800 point gap between him and Wilko on the Jeep Leaderboard. A win would go a long way toward that effort.
"I am excited to face Matt," Florence said after his Round Five win. "He's in the lead right now, and I'd love to get him back, but I'm just going to focus on my own surfing. Tomorrow we are supposed to have good, big waves so I am excited."
The forecast for the final day of competition is calling for even bigger surf, with pristine conditions still hanging in there. As perfect as Thursday was, Druku might have more in store for the final day.
You're going to want to tune into this one.
Fiji Pro Quarterfinal Match-Ups:
QF 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Adriano de Souza (BRA)
QF 2: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA)
QF 3: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Adrian Buchan (AUS)
QF 4: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. John John Florence (HAW)