RIPPER: Ace Buchan of Avoca, NSW, reaches the semi-finals and took off on some of the biggest set waves in the Fiji Pro.
RIPPER: Ace Buchan of Avoca, NSW, reaches the semi-finals and took off on some of the biggest set waves in the Fiji Pro. Ed Sloane/WSL

Cloudbreak delivers in tens


THE Fiji Pro at Cloudbreak, Tavarua was easily the best event so far on this year’s World Surf League Tour.

Using the whole extended period after an eight-day lay-off period, the famous Cloudbreak awoke from its tropical slumber with a 10ft-plus swell of consequence, erupting over the shallow coral reef bed for the final two days of competition.

Broken boards, snapped leg ropes and blistering 10-point tube rides were all part of the high drama that unfolded with an increasing swell.

Brazil’s 2014 world champion Gabriel Medina, Hawaii’s John Florence and USA’s greatest Kelly Slater were on fire on the second-last day, posting memorable 10-point rides.

Perfect 10 scores are not handed out easily by the judging panel that insist on establishing the right scale.

Eleven-time world champion Slater was back better than ever, raising the bar with his stand-up, no-rail-grab tube rides.

Experience counts for everything and at 44, the world’s greatest surfer was putting on a clinic in round four and the quarter-finals, looking seemingly unbeatable.

It’s been nearly two years since Slater won a WCT (World Championship Tour) event and prior to Fiji was having his worst year, languishing in 35th on the ratings.

But surfing Cloudbreak since he was 17 and picking up four events along the way there, it looked like the King was on his way to a 55th WCT victory.

But Gabriel Medina, the defending champ and who was runner-up to Slater in the 2014 Fijian Pro, was in the winning mode in the semis, denying Kelly his first win in two years.

Slater’s magic evaporated in the semis, with wash- through sets that didn’t allow for the earlier 10-point rides.

Still, he can be assured with new Webber boards that were working a treat (ahh, his favourite one broke), the champ has now moved to 26th on the ratings.

Slater will need to put the foot down to make the top 22 cut-off if he is to requalify for next year’s world tour.

So many great moments went down at Cloudbreak and possibly the best heat of the year – and one of the most memorable clashes – was between Taj Burrow in his swansong heat against Hawaii’s John Florence.

Going head to head, barrel for barrel, and with the lead changing continuously, in the end Taj Burrow, who has retired from competition, bowed out gracefully against the Hawaiian. It will go down as one of the best heats in the history of WSL competition.

To see Mick Fanning back in the water with his jersey on was exciting and the three-time world champion has certainly not lost any of his competitive savvy since having a three-month hiatus from the world tour.

Fanning has confirmed he will surf in the next event at Jeffrey’s Bay where his shark attack there last year made headlines around the world.

Fanning was in 23rd place on the ratings before Fiji and is now in 16th, back in the top 22 cut-off for next year.

Despite all the heroics and the perfect scoring rides, Copacabana’s Matt Wilkinson, with a runner-up to Medina in the final, has not only held onto the lead but managed to keep a decent buffer between him and his Rip Curl teammate.

The world title is now a three-horse race between Wilkinson, Medina and Florence going into J-Bay.

Renowned as one of the best right-hand pointbreaks in the world, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa’s stunning Eastern Cape, is scheduled to run from July 6-17.

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