Fiji Pro 2014 – Preview
By Sean Doherty
In a way it’s him against them. Him against the whole lot of ‘em.
So complete has Kelly Slater’s domination of the Fiji event been over the past decade – and so compelling in the way he’s done it – there can be no other logical conclusion than another Kelly Slater win in Fiji next week. The tour has never seen one guy dominate an event like Kelly has dominated this one… the only challenger being maybe Kelly’s domination of the Pipe Masters. Kelly has won Fiji four times from eight starts, and won the last two in grand style – drawing new lines, toying with the tube, rallying those old bones and tapping into something primal. After 20 years out there his surfing has long since ceased being an empirical exercise and is now bordering on the supernatural. After winning last year’s final, after pulling into double-overhead cabins, standing with crucifix arms, racing the things till they ran out of water and scorpioned him into the reef, he climbed onto the boat and his first words were, “This is a man’s wave.” So when the Fiji Pro starts on Sunday, the question is an obvious one… who’s gonna be man enough to beat him?
Thing is, they really, really need to beat Kelly.
No one is quite sure how it’s happened, but Kelly Slater leads the ratings going into Fiji. It’s a little wack because his form this season has been scratchy at best. World number two, Taj Burrow reckons it’s the most mortal Kelly has looked in living memory, and yet here he is, heading into his pet stretch of the tour – Fiji/J-Bay/Tahiti/Trestles – somehow as world number one. It’s grating the guys around him, but it may in fact work in their favour. In the past they’ve headed to Fiji almost resigned to the fact Kelly was going to win. This time they’ll head to Fiji knowing they have to beat him here, they have no choice, because if he gets on a roll over the next four events he won’t be stopped for the world title.
Okay, so how’s it going to happen? How’s someone going to beat Kelly to the title at Cloudbreak next week? The waves might well dictate how it’s done. The past two years has had surf to the eyeballs. You all know what happened in 2012, but last year was, in terms of a performance contest, even better still. It rarely dropped below six foot, had trades for days, and was running the length of the reef.
As far as the great South Pacific Oracle can see for this year, it’s going to be far smaller, and this could have a great equalizing effect. Cloudbreak at four foot feels so much different to Cloudbreak at six. It doesn’t move around as much, it’s less oceanic, less intimidating, less esoteric and just downright fun… a fact that will embiggen the backmarkers no end.
Secondly, a smaller year is going to pump air into the tyres of the goofies. The past two incarnations of the event have seen naturalfooters dominate in the bigger swell, using their collective arse as a handbrake to speed-manage their way down the reef all the way from The Ledge. Last year, of the eight quarter-finalists only one, CJ, was a goofy. But shrink the swell, tighten the tube and bring it right in on the reef and it’s suddenly a very different wave. Shea Lopez, a goofy and a former finalist out there made a good point in his Fantasy Surfer preview, noting that when it’s smaller, being on your forehand also helps you squeeze out the graveyard, dry-reef Shish Kebabs section. At four foot, tight heats are won and lost down there.
The goofies have massively underachieved here in the past, and there’s a feeling in the water this might change this year. Check this roster – CJ, Owen, Kai Otton, Fred Patacchia, Ace, Nat, Gabe Medina, Miggy Pupes and even Wilko – all of these guys have had dream heats out here in smaller surf over the past few years but with the exception of Gabe and CJ none of them have challenged for the Fiji title. We’ve seen small years at Tahiti fought out amongst the goofies, and a small forecast could see a long overdue correction go down at Cloudbreak.
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