Women's competitive surfing had returned to Cloudbreak, Fiji, in 2013 and quickly became the biggest test for the Championship Tour surfers. No other wave on the roster had the power or consequences, and none tested the women's barrel riding abilities like the Fijian reef break.
The world's best surfers had adapted over time. Sally Fitzgibbons had been a perennial performer, famously winning the event in 2015, surfing with a head wrap over a busted eardrum she had suffered earlier in the event.
However, it was in 2016 that there was a dramatic shift in performance levels. Led by finalists Johanne Defay and Carissa Moore, and ably supported by wildcard Bethany Hamilton and Laura Enever, this was the event where the women didn't just deal with Cloudbreak but dominated it.
The marker was set early by Enever. The graceful natural-footer had always thrived in heavy surf, and after later falling off the CT in 2017 has since reinvented herself as a big wave surfer. She scored the first perfect 10 of the event, secured not through tuberiding but by a brutal backhand assault to the thick Pacific lips.
Elsewhere in the draw the upward shift in commitment and technique at Cloudbreak was in part fueled by the inclusion of Hamilton. The surfer from Hawaii has always been a standout in serious conditions, as shown by her freesurfing sessions at Pipe, Teahupoo, and Jaws.
However here she backed that commitment with incredible performance surfing in what was only her sixth ever CT event. She marched to the Semifinals upsetting Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore along the way.
It was the eventual Finalists Moore and Defay though who did most of the heavy lifting in terms of progressing the sport over the ten days. Moore had dominated the event logging an incredible sequence of improving heat totals of 15.90, 18.46, 19.03, and 19.04.
Working with Cloudbreak standout CJ Hobgood, the Hawaiian's backside tuberiding in the pumping six-to-eight foot conditions set a new benchmark.
"Fiji has been a challenging event for me in past years so it felt great to get some solid waves and big scores under my belt here," she said afterward.
It was only Defay who could stop the Hawaiian. Defay had grown up surfing the famous left-hander of St Leu in Reunion Island, and it showed. She had made the Semifinals the year before and it was her composure, vertical attack, and backhand power that set her apart from her peers.
It was enough for her to clinched the second CT win of her career, but more importantly, her performance built a platform for what was possible at Cloudbreak for years to come.
To watch all the action from the 2016 Fiji Pro, tune into WSL Rewind.