Malia, Tati earn 5th on Gold Coast, Wilko captures crazy men’s title

Both the women’s and men’s Pro Gold Coast contests concluded with Tuesday’s finals day and the tenor of each could not have been more different. The women’s event went more or less to plan as many contenders from the past few seasons started their 2016 in similar fashion. But the men’s draw was as unpredictable as ever and the world title race seems to again be anyone’s guess.

Both Malia Manuel and Tatiana Weston-Webb had solid starts to their Championship Tour seasons. Each moved into the quarterfinals to take an equal fifth place. Malia looked like she might be in for an even bigger result during the early rounds. She had the best wave of round one, winning her heat to move directly into round three thanks to one wicked fins-free turn among her array.

Round four was even more impressive as Malia turned in an 18.03 total to knock out Australia’s Bronte Macaulay, despite the local notching a 9.73 wave of her own. But defending champ Carissa Moore got the best of Manuel in the quarters, which was a low-scoring round for most remaining competitors.

Tati squeaked by Alessa Quizon in the duo’s second-round elimination heat. She was in need of a 6.58 in the final minute and her last chance ended up being just good enough to earn a 12.56 to 12.40 win. After a third-round victory to get to the quarters, she was stopped by Johanne Defay.

We were all set for a 1-2 rematch of Moore and Courtney Conlogue in the final, but Tyler Wright got in Moore’s path and took down the three-time world champ in the semifinals, then earned the season’s first victory over Conlogue. After reaching just one final last season, Wright gets the yellow jersey heading into Bells Beach. She certainly earned it, eliminating Stephanie Gilmore, Moore and Conlogue in succession.

The men’s side was far more volatile. A few underdogs made some big statements and got rid of elite surfers, opening up the draw for anyone to grab the throne. It was Aussie Matt Wilkinson who ultimately survived to take that coveted seat, as well as the early-season points lead.

Rookie Stu Kennedy had one of the most impressive contests anyone could hope for, let alone someone making just their third CT start and first since 2010. Kennedy outdueled Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, Sebastian Zietz and John John Florence in one-on-one elimination heats before bowing out in the semifinals against Kolohe Andino.

Zietz managed to enter the field as an injury replacement and was ripping early on. He looked strong from the start and took down Julian Wilson and Mick Fanning in rounds two and three, respectively. But he ran into the buzzsaw that was Stu Kennedy in round five. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of Seabass on this year’s CT, though his main focus will be on the Qualifying Series as he tries to earn back his spot on the world tour.

Filipe Toledo appeared headed to another season-opening victory, which he achieved last year on the Gold Coast. His high-flying antics were on full display until the semifinals, where he came up short against Wilkinson.

Last year’s men’s tour showed us nothing should be taken for granted. Tuesday confirmed that belief and indicated that 2016 could be another free for all.

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

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