After what amounted to an unprecedented day of carnage and attrition among the CT's top seeds to close out Round Three at the Outerknown Fiji Pro, some semblance of order was restored in Round Four. But it wasn't all honky dory for the high seeds, as once again a quartet of rookies scraped and fought for their right to progress straight into the Quarterfinal round.
The opening heat of the morning saw World No. 5 Matt Wilkinson continue his winning roll with his third straight heat victory at the Fiji Pro. Surfing with his trademark abandon, Wilkinson's no longer a question mark in terms of strategy and tactics, which makes him deadly in bowly lefthanders. Plenty of thanks for Wilko's new and improved headspace since last season's breakthrough into the Top 5 can be attributed to his coach, Glenn Hall. Hall's formula has harnessed the Aussie's explosive, skatey style without losing its edge. Wilkinson moves straight to the Quarters where he'll face the winner of the Julian Wilson vs. Italo Ferreira clash.
Michel Bourez has been around long enough to know what opportunity looks like. With most of the Top 10 out of the competition, and feeling right at home in his South Pacific element, he knew this was the perfect place to make up some ground. After all, the Tahitian is sitting No. 23 on the Jeep Leaderboard at the moment. He's better than that. During the first half of his heat with Leonardo Fioravanti and Italo Ferreira, Bourez was tube-hunting. But after a series of mid-range scores from a couple snug little shacks, the Tahitian shifted gears and waited for larger waves with more open face. The astute tactical adjustment paid off for the veteran in the form of the highest single-wave score of the round -- a 9.00 -- on a wave featuring a number of backside lip hammers completely in rhythm. It's the type of speed, power and flow upon which the Spartan has built his reputation. That combo allowed him to play straight into the scoring criteria on a day when it was difficult to find excellent waves. He'll get the winner of the Leo Fioravanti vs. Ian Gouveia matchup in the Quarterfinals.
In Heat 3, top-ranked rookie Connor O'Leary overcame a late charge from Joan Duru and a snookered Joel Parkinson to take the win by the slimmest of margins -- a mere .16 points. O'Leary, for his part, was pragmatic about the win. "It's hard to avoid the barrel out here," O'Leary said afterward, referring to the turns vs. tubes debate. "But Luke Egan [O'Leary's coach] said it's more risk than reward, he told me to open up and get back on my tail, so I did." Egan, you'll recall, already has one 2017 Fiji Pro Champ in his stable in the form of Women's Pro winner Courtney Conlogue. Now he's banking on rookie O'Leary to make it happen again. If his plans pan out, the bartenders over on Namotu will be handing out life preservers with the pints.
A rising tide and declining swell didn't seem to bother Bede Durbidge much during his dominant Round Four, Heat 4 win over Stu Kennedy and Sebastian Zietz. While Kennedy and Zietz struggled to find even a scoring backup wave, the big Aussie bagged a couple of decent set waves with mid-range scores, which were good enough to put the win well out of reach. Durbidge's perfomances in Fiji are a return to his pre-injury form. He was sidelined for all of last season, after a horrific wipeout that required a 17-centimeter rod surgically placed through his fractured hip bone. With his Round Four victory, Bede's already guaranteed his best finish on Tour since taking 2nd place at the Quik Pro France back in October 2015.
With a new swell due to fill in overnight and a mere two full days left in waiting period, the remaining storylines should provide plenty of fireworks. And if the last two days have proved anything, it's to expect the unexpected out at Cloudbreak, a wave with so many faces it would make a plastic surgeon jealous. And that folks, to apply a somewhat anachronistic yet appropriate sports cliché, is why we surf the heats.