The Fiji Pro belonged to one, tall man: At this year’s event in paradise, Owen Wright stepped into the spotlight, surfing his way into history first with one, then two perfect heats in which he scored a maximum 20.00 points in each and won the contest.
Five athletes in the history of pro surfing have logged perfect heats. Kelly Slater and Joel Parkinson each own two. But no one had two in a single contest. Wright changed all that when, after claiming a 20-point heat in Round 5, he reached perfection again in the Final against Julian Wilson.
Starting the season ranked outside the Top 10, Wright has been taking two steps up the rankings and one step back, with Quarterfinal finishes at Bells and Rio and 13th- and ninth-place finishes on the Gold Coast. But with his definitive win in Fiji, he’ll head into second half of the season at No. 3 on the Jeep Leaderboard, and securely in the Title race.
But before all the fanfare, finals day began with the Quarters. Italo Ferreira was quick to put up two solid scores against Julian Wilson in the first Quarterfinal heat. The rookie strung together smooth layback carves with clean barrels and float sections, putting pressure on Wilson early. Wilson, however, had other plans: He committed to a bigger set wave, earning a 9.43 and turning the heat around. Ferreira earned two more excellent scores, high-lining his way through the tubes, but by selecting smaller sets he fell short of what he needed to regain the lead.
In Quarterfinal 2, Taj Burrow did away with the remaining rookie, Wiggolly Dantas, making way for the heavyweight match in Quarterfinal 3 as Owen Wright and Joel Parkinson hit the water. Between them, they had recorded three perfect rides over the course of the event so far.
Parkinson drew first blood with a string of smooth cutbacks and a small barrel section for a seven-pointer. Wright answered back with a similar score, powering through the curtain for the completion. An excellent-range score for a similar but cleaner line allowed him to pull away. Parkinson, who has had two perfect heats in his career, needed one more big score to stay alive but the opportunity never arrived.
In the last QF, Jeremy Flores spoiled the chances for an all-Aussie Semifinal, defeating event standout Kai Otton. Otton’s performance in Fiji will see him make the biggest jump up the rankings, due in part to his defeat of some of the Tour’s top players. His upsets included ousting reigning World Champ Gabriel Medina in Round 3, and three-time World Champ Mick Fanning in Round 5. But he was quickly comboed in his Quarterfinal heat — in which he needed two new scores to catch up — and in his chase he was swallowed up by a heavy barrel and thrown against the reef. He was not severely injured, but will leave Tavarua with some battle wounds.
For the Semifinals, the ocean took a breather for a slow start. Wilson, still on fire, toppled Burrow with a mere seven-pointer. In the second Semifinal, Wright vs. Flores, the Aussie was in tune with Cloudbreak no matter how it was breaking. He found a standup barrel that opened up for his signature cutbacks for a 9.43 to start his heat and backed it up with a midrange score, advancing to a Final for the first time since 2011. While Flores was defeated, he finished equal third and moves into the Top 10 — pushing Kelly Slater out.
On the face of it, the Final started out with both surfers — Wright vs. Wilson, two wunderkinds-turned-seasoned chargers from Australia — on equal footing. But within minutes, it was clear that Wright was unstoppable. His wave selection and timing were impeccable — while he was able to find cover and escape before the tube shut down, Wilson took the brunt of the closeouts again and again. When Wright earned a 9.60 for a hollow barrel, his win seemed inevitable.
But before the Final was over, Wright proved that he’d barely gotten started. With five minutes left, he stood tall in a heavy barrel, weaving out of it perfectly to earn a perfect 10 that had the channel roaring. With less than two minutes left, he did it again, scoring a perfect 10 for his second perfect heat in as many days. Wright not only triumphed in Fiji, but became a part of surfing history.
The next stop on the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour is the J-Bay Open