The women showed their skills in the big surf as the swell hit Cloudbreak during day two at Tavarua Island. There were some big scores and upsets in rounds two and three and both Tatiana Weston-Webb and Malia Manuel remain in contention for the Fiji Women’s Pro title.
The heats haven’t necessarily been dominated by the top-ranked surfers as Nikki Van Dijk, Laura Enever and Weston-Webb have all given standout performances — maybe none more so than Tati, who moved directly into the quarterfinals. She came out of her second day in the water with two of the contest’s top three heat totals.
After a second place in the opening round, the increasing swell at Cloudbreak certainly better suited Tati’s style. She jumped all over Sage Erickson in round two and closed out her account with the best wave of the event. The swell was providing some big waves but only a few barrels were successfully ridden. Weston-Webb had the best of all when she got covered twice as she stalled into the tube and came out unscathed, finishing off the ride with a huge turn and enjoying cheers from the spectators as she headed back to the lineup. It was a near-perfect 9.73 that bumped her into a combination lead and certified her spot in round three.
She was part of a Hawaii trio in the non-elimination round and Tati again dominated the action against Carissa Moore and Coco Ho. She reached the excellent range on her top two waves and caught another quick barrel on her second score. She totaled a 17.67 and looked completely at ease maneuvering into and along the challenging wave.
Now into the quarterfinals for the third time this season, Weston-Webb must be considered a legitimate threat heading into the final eight. The question is no longer, “Can she win it?” but instead, “Why can’t she?” While there are plenty of chargers on the women’s tour, Tati has been the in-form surfer so far and has shown a knack for finding the barrels with the most potential. If the whole contest were held at Cloudbreak, she may even be considered a favorite. But a move to Restaurants, with its less threatening waves, would bring some other styles back into the mix.
Manuel is into round four and will be taking on South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag, who is coming off a runner-up finish at the Rio Pro. But Fiji was Manuel’s first semifinal last year and it would be her second of 2015 if she can make it that far. She’s surfing very well and knocked off Keely Andrew in round two. Andrew just made the quarters in Rio, but Manuel started strong and stayed steady to win their head-to-head battle. The draw seems to set up nicely for Manuel. Buitendag is certainly no pushover, but if she can get through, she’ll have Van Dijk in the quarters.
It’s a bit of a surprise to see Van Dijk in the final eight. She was able to knock off Silvana Lima in round two, then won her third-round heat against Manuel and Tyler Wright. Van Dijk hasn’t made a quarterfinal yet this year and hadn’t won a heat since the opening contest on the Gold Coast.
Another early shocker was Enever, who hadn’t won a heat all season coming into Fiji. But she was on her game in the first round, earning a 9.43 and an 8.37 to barely outpoint Sally Fitzgibbons. Enever still has work to do in round four, when she’ll take on Coco Ho.
Fitzgibbons had a scare in round two, bursting an eardrum during her heat win over Oahu wild card Mahina Maeda. The pro she is, Fitzgibbons went back out and won her third-round heat with a headband covering her ear.
Four of Hawaii’s six surfers remain with Maeda and Alessa Quizon having been second-round casualties. Moore will face Lakey Peterson in round four, with the winner then going up against Weston-Webb in a marquee quarterfinal matchup.
Building swell was supposed to reemerge today with a possible restart. The Tavarua site is 22 hours ahead of Hawaiian Standard Time and the contest is being carried live on Oceanic Surf Channels 250 and 1250.