Kauai wahine struggle at Roxy Pro; defending champ John John shines

After a quick start to their respective Qualifying Series campaigns, both Tatiana Weston-Webb and Malia Manuel were unable to make a similar impact on the year’s first Championship Tour contest. Finals day at Snapper Rocks went off Saturday, concluding the Roxy Pro Gold Coast and the men’s Quiksilver Pro.

Manuel suffered a quick exit earlier in the week, falling to Coco Ho in round two. The pair are as close as any two competitors on tour, so it’s bittersweet when they have to face off in a contest setting, especially so early on. It was a fierce battle as each pulled out all the stops to the finish, but Ho earned a 14.50 to 14.36 victory.

Manuel lost in the second round just once all last season, so this isn’t expected to become a pattern. It’s just an early throwaway score that she’ll quickly put behind her as her ledger improves.

Tati won her opening- round heat to jump directly into round three. After a third-place showing at that stage, she faced Lakey Peterson in a fourth-round elimination heat. Each surfer battled the choppy conditions after perfect waves highlighted round three. Peterson stormed back from a quick deficit to pick up the lead late in the heat. Weston-Webb needed just a 5.26 on her final effort to recapture the advantage.

She hopped on an uneven right and picked off a quick two-turn combination, but the wave started to fizzle. She did all she could on the small sections but it equated to just a 5.00 score from the judges. Like Manuel, the ninth-place result is a bit of an anomaly for Tati. She reached the quarterfinals in eight of 10 contests last season.

It didn’t turn out to be a very successful contest for any Hawaii wahine. Carissa Moore was the only one to reach the quarterfinals and she was knocked out by Stephanie Gilmore at that stage.

Peterson announced her presence and re-emergence from injury with a run to the finals against Gilmore. It’s her first final since the 2015 Cascais Women’s Pro. When Peterson is healthy and focused, she can string together numerous performances like this one. If she can remain in the lineup, the world title picture may extend to about seven or eight different competitors this season.

QUIKSILVER PRO: There doesn’t seem to be much of a championship hangover for John John Florence, who showed up on the Gold Coast with yellow jersey in hand. Keeping that jersey is the hard part, but Florence appears to be up for the challenge.

John John wasn’t dominant all the way through, but he managed to consistently find the best waves and make the most of them until the semifinal round. With an early 9.50 in hand, it quickly looked as if Florence would be coasting to yet another final. But defending Snapper champion Matt Wilkinson fought his way all the way back into contention, winning the heat on his final attempt. Needing a 7.67 to advance, Wilko torched the lip a few times and earned his best score of an 8.07 for a chance to repeat.

For Florence, third place is certainly a good start in his title defense. Snapper Rocks isn’t his best wave so a semifinal showing still sets him up nicely.

Sebastian Zietz reached the third round by topping Jack Freestone in round two. But Seabass was on the short end of a very tight matchup with Conner Coffin, who escaped with the 14.33 to 14.20 victory.

So the year begins with another Wilko showcase, another big John John result, another solid Gabriel Medina-Kelly Slater showdown (won by Medina in the quarters) and a fantastic return for Owen Wright. I’ll certainly take it.

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

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