Carissa Moore came out spitting fire on Tuesday. The 3x World Champion is suffering through her worst season ever, but you wouldn't know it based on her domination of day one of the Outerknown Fiji Women's Pro. The powerful backhand surfing she delivered was vintage Moore: fluid, fast and furious. She earned the highest score of Round One, with a 16.77, and she backed that up in Round Three with a commanding 17.76 win over co-Jeep Leader Stephanie Gilmore, as well as Keely Andrew.
For the record, those were the two highest scores of the day.
While Moore blitzed her way into the Quarterfinals, she has yet to get past that round this season, which is shocking given her track record, and the big reason why she's sitting down in at No. 8 on the Jeep rankings. She's obviously overdue for a big result, and she knows it. And given what we saw Tuesday, Moore seems intent on earning one here in Fiji.
Meanwhile, defending event champion Johanne Defay rocketed back into the Quarterfinals thanks to her blistering backhand. While Defay had to go survive a tough Round Two match with Pauline Ado, she handily won her Round Three match with Courtney Conlogue and Bethany Hamilton. As her competitors were struggling in the low tide racers, Defay managed the tricky afternoon conditions with confidence.
Sage Erickson once again demonstrated why she's the most improved surfer of the year so far. She has raised her average heat score by a point this year, and her heat win percentage has jumped from 26 percent to 57 percent. At No. 9 on the Jeep Leaderboard, she's on the verge of becoming a real contender, and she was acting like one at Cloudbreak Tuesday. Erickson got the better of defending champion Johanne Defay in Round One, looking crisp on her backhand. Then she backed that up with a huge win over reigning World Champion Tyler Wright in Round Three, earning a crucial fast-track trip to the Quarterfinals.
Sage is getting great guidance from men's Championship Tour surfer Conner Coffin, her longtime friend from Santa Barbara. Conner has spent more than his fair share of time on Tavarua, working as a boat driver. He knows every one of Cloudbreak's personalities and when the waves are small, windy, and dramatically impacted by the tides the insider knowledge on where to sit is priceless.
"I started hanging out with Conner when he was about 14," Erickson said afterward. "We're from the same small, tight-knit community, and it's really starting to hit me how many amazing people there are around me, and they all believe in me, so now I'm starting to believe in myself." And she should.
Meanwhile, 2x Fiji winner Sally Fitzgibbons opened her 2017 Cloudbreak campaign with two straight heat wins and another direct trip to the Quarterfinals. Fitzgibbons was dominant in her first heat, taking the win with a 16-point total. While her Round Three heat with Tatiana Weston-Webb and Nikki Van Dijk was more of a grind, Fitzgibbons toughed it out, keeping her foot heavy on the accelerator and banging away on every target she could find.
Bethany Hamilton was the other big story of the day. The Hawaiian wildcard won a huge Round One heat against Tyler Wright and Weston-Webb. It's the second straight year she's topped Wright in Fiji. Last year Bethany eliminated Wright from the competition. This year she'll get another crack at it, too. They're set for a Round Four rematch when competition resumes.
Stephanie Gilmore will also have her hands full with a Round Four match. After Moore comboed her in Round Three, that set Steph up for a tough match against Tatiana Weston-Webb.
With Wednesday's swell in Fiji looking like the best available one in the window, officials are looking to wrap the event if possible. The event may even start a little earlier in the morning to milk the optimal conditions. With World Title ramifications on the line, you won't want to miss this one.