Fiji may not clear up much, but it should be fun

It’s been a weird year. There’s not much of an overarching story line for the current World Surf League season and things might only get foggier once we start seeing some results at this week’s Fiji Pro. Adriano de Souza and Filipe Toledo have developed a decent lead over the rest of the field, but neither has been unbeatable.

The points leader, de Souza, was just knocked out in the third round at the Rio Pro and Toledo was a second-round casualty at Margaret River. In fact, every single member of the top 10 has at least one 13th-place finish through the first four contests. So there will undoubtedly be plenty of maneuvering from here on out.

We could also see some surprises as we did in Rio, especially with some of the most dangerous surfers out with injuries. John John Florence injured an ankle during a free surf in Brazil and Jordy Smith is out with a knee injury. Michel Bourez remains out and Brett Simpson also won’t participate.

One who could surprise is Sebastian Zietz, who hasn’t had a breakthrough performance yet this season. He has reached at least round three in all four events and made round four at Margaret River, but now would certainly be an opportune time to make a move up the rankings. Zietz sits in a tie for 17th among a very crowded group of hungry competitors. Rio was his best event last season, but with just an Equal 13th this time around, he’ll need to find a new high point to make his run at re-qualification a bit easier.

Seabass will be taking on Owen Wright and Dusty Payne in the opening round at Fiji’s Tavarua Island. He’s been great in first-round heats this season, winning three of four. Wright is the highest-ranked surfer, into sixth after a quarterfinal in Rio, but Zietz may actually be considered the favorite in this trio.

Payne has had a rough start in his return to the Championship Tour. When he qualified through the 2014 Triple Crown and came aboard the CT with Keanu Asing to up Hawaii’s competitor count to five, many expected him to immediately contend for event titles. The way he has crushed some Qualifying Series events hasn’t translated into CT success just yet. He enters in a tie for 30th and with only two heat wins. But the scope of what can loom at Fiji’s Cloudbreak may be the right setting for the Maui surfer to successfully reposition himself.

Despite Toledo having just won in Rio and having two wins under his belt, he may not be the surfer to watch in Fiji. He’s been incredible with aerial maneuvers, by far the most exciting man on tour. But he was solid if not spectacular at the same site last year. He reached the fourth round and had just one wave reach the excellent range. If Cloudbreak goes off with some heavy waves, an air show won’t be the best way to score. The barrel will be the boss.

The official Surfline forecast model shows a sizable swell heading to Fiji this weekend, so it seems unlikely the event will start up today, given the 13-day waiting period. When they do make the call, Kelly Slater will be in the opening heat with Kolohe Andino and Alejo Muniz. Slater is off to one of the slowest starts of his career, but a trip to Fiji may be just the jump start he needs. The 11-time world champ won the Fiji Pro in 2012 and 2013.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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