Sean Doherty On Fiji Pro Round 4, Warwick Capper At The Top Shop

16 Jun 2016 1

Kelly Slater in his barrel of the year so far? Photo by Cestari / WSL

Kelly Slater in his barrel of the year so far? Photo by Cestari / WSL

FIJI PRO | Presented by Electric

Round 4 at Cloudbreak, Fiji

In the middle of a drunken game of island bocce last week a remarkable sighting was made.

Up the beach, on his own, a hairy creature was doing overhead abdominal crunches using a large chunk of coral as a counterweight. Ace Buchan began narrating the sighting like Attenborough in the midst of a troop of mountain gorillas. In a past life Matt Wilko would’ve been eyeballs deep in beer at that point, but not this year. This year he’s been transformed into a badass Doctor Seuss character, and those predicting his spectacular start to the season running aground on the reefs of the South Pacific needed to watch on at Cloudbreak this morning.

SEE ALSO: Sean Doherty On Round 3, The Way To Go Out

The conditions were blue butter for a second day running, but this morning there was a more visceral feel to it as the swell period had lengthened and the surfers were split between the inside and outside reefs. The “Black Nor Easter” that had flattened Sydney and left Fiji flat was now a long distant memory, and the final days of this event shaped up as epic.

Wilko was drawn against Ace Buchan and the guy quickly firming as event favourite, John Florence. Few gave Wilko a chance. Facing John John at six-to-eight foot Cloudbreak was soon going to tell us if Wilko’s season was legit.

He started up the “Top Shop” – the very top corner of the reef – with a long drainer and surfed up and down and through it, all hair and hands and spray, getting weightless at several points but with his feet always finding his board like a falling cat. The heats today were always going to be won through the inside, which was straight up detonating on the low tide, and soon enough Wilko was parked next to Johnny on The Ledge and it was on.

But the defining point in the heat came when a big “Warwick Capper” set rolled through and caught Wilko inside, badly. He wore them like top hats. He took heavy gas, but duckdived three big, rolling waves. Old Wilko would’ve needed rescuing, burping beer, but watching level from the contest boat New Wilko hardly lost a metre as the waves rolled over him. A few minutes later he was soon parked inside the belly of the winning wave.

We’d motored into the lineup this morning aboard Namotu’s fishing tender, The Duck, which has taken enough fish over the past week to prompt a Sea Shepherd sinking. There was no time however for pulling pukka pukka from the ocean floor behind Cloudbreak today, because from even from the fishing grounds a mile away it was clear it was cooking.

SEE ALSO: Sean Doherty On, Round 2, Cape Fiji

We pulled up just in time to watch Gabe Medina scoot the length of the reef inside a hog for a perfect 10 on just the second wave of the day. No time for warming up the scale, there. For the second day running however the judges made it clear they have no time for the frippery of giant alley-oops on the end sections, turns that would be 10s themselves elsewhere that don’t even register here. “Best four of my life,” Gabe called it later.

Kelly’s 10 however was the one.

No one on earth could’ve ridden that wave the way he did – two long tubes connected with a masterful swoop – and with finals day predicted to be bigger and better than today, there’s clear signs of Kelly and Cloudbreak both peaking tomorrow. Sound familiar? But after acing the heat Kelly fell from the heavens on a final wave, called into it by Mick Fanning, landing in what appeared to be waist deep water. Magic boards have hardly been his thing this year, and when he came up with two halves of a magic board he was less than impressed.

It’s an interesting point for Kelly… but like, when isn’t? Without having set foot over on Tavarua to study Kelly in the wilderness of the resort bar, the observations from across on Namotu and the messages going between them on the coconut wireless are that the king’s a little cantankerous right now. Would a win tomorrow make life just a little rosier? What would a win tomorrow even mean to him? After cooking up his own wave in the laboratory in Lemoore, what significance is there now in the finest nature can throw at him here in his spiritual retreat?

Mick Fanning has been asking himself the big questions all year, and has been answering them all with, “Having a filf time!” That’s been his catch cry all week on Namotu, but after emerging from the most sublime wave of the day and suddenly finding himself in the quarter finals, he’s kinda asking himself how he even got here. He only turned up here in Fiji to send Taj Burrow out in style, and yet here he is in the middle of his gap year with a real chance of finally cracking a win in Fiji. If he does win there’ll be no repeat of the weeklong party that’s already gone down here. He’s got a chopper booked straight after the final to make a plane for parts unknown. He’s disappearing again.

He booked the flights on his laptop, sitting at the bar at Namotu watching round five run while cheering on his roommate, Ace Buchan. When “Pup” came out of a drainer and took the heat, Mick cheered before the broadcast continued… “and that win now means Ace Buchan is drawn against his Namotu roommate, Mick Fanning in the quarters.”

“Fark! That’s the second one this trip,” he moaned, after already having dispatched Kai Otton in round two. It’s one way I suppose to get a room to yourself.

The final heat of the day saw Jadson Andre drawn against John John, and perched next to me watching at the bar, Adriano De Souza made his allegiances clear. “Go Jaddy!”

A pile of cushions in the dark corner of the bar replied, “Yeah, go Jaddy!”

It was Wilko.

He’d draw the winner of this heat in the quarters, and beating John twice in two days, even for someone of Wilko’s newfound belief and discipline, was going to be tough. The Fijian girls brought out a big bowl of hot chips and sat them on the counter. Wilko – having dropped a bunch of weight this year – peeled himself off the lounge and pulled out a chip. “Just one.” He sat back down just as John John scratched his balls inside another eight-footer. He got back up and had another one. By the end of the heat John John was into the quarters, the bowl of chips was half empty, and Wilko quipped, “I’ve only had one chip… just 15 times.”

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