In one of the most entertaining and unforeseen, finals of the year, Matt Wilkinson has taken the win at the Outerknown Fiji Pro over rookie Connor O’Leary.
It was a stunning day in tropical paradise, with 6 – 8 foot sets rolling through the reef at Cloudbreak – the sun was shining, the action was non-stop – and the result was almost fairy-tale-esque.
“We’ve had such an awesome week,” Wilko said, dripping in salt and excitement after the final horn blew. “It obviously started with some pumping waves, then we had some lay days – and if you’re going to have lay days, this is the place to do it! All the Aussies stay on Namotu and have such a good time, and now, this result! I’m so stoked!”
And so he should be. At the start of the event, Wilko was sitting fifth on the Jeep Leaderboard and was a whopping 8000 points behind yellow jersey leader John Florence – a leap that was almost unfathomable for one event.
Yet when John was knocked early and bowed out with a 13th (along with all the other World Title contenders) Wilko saw an opportunity and ran with it. Throughout each day of competition he was slated as one of, if not the most, in-form surfer at Cloudbreak. And with the help of his coach Glenn “Micro” Hall, he didn’t falter once.
“I actually forgot about the old yellow jersey change, but… it’s BACK! And I know there’s a long time to go in the season, but it definitely feels awesome picking up momentum, instead of having a bunch of people saying, ‘Ooh, you’ve got the yellow jersey to lose!’ Now I’ve got it to KEEP.”
Wilko had to put up a tough fight both throughout the event and in the final heat to get to where he is now. Earlier in the event Connor had no trouble taking down heavy-hitters like Joel Parkinson and 11x World Champion Kelly Slater, and he wasn’t about to give Wilko an easy ride through to becoming Champion.
It was turn-for-turn, barrel-for-barrel, wave-for-wave, first-to-second and then back again for the entire 35-minute final – and it wasn’t until the last four minutes that Wilko was able to snag the lead and, as the ocean went silent, keep it for good.
“Now, well… now I guess it’s time to go drink some beer!” Wilko says, almost laughing as he bends over from exhaustion, a huge grin on his face. “What else do you do when you win the OK Fiji Pro!?”