There’s a lot that seems to be coming full circle as the Championship Tour gets set to open up the Fiji Women’s Pro. The wahine have been at Cloudbreak getting used to the conditions, getting barreled and getting the full Fijian experience. But there’s a similarity to last season in how this event is lining up and it starts with Bethany Hamilton.
For the second straight year, Hamilton is the WSL wild card for the Fiji Pro. If she has anywhere near the same success as she did last year, it will surely impact the women’s world title race.
The first round includes a heat featuring the event’s two Kauai girls as Hamilton takes on both Tatiana Weston-Webb and Tyler Wright. Wright was the first to endure the not-so-subtle reminder of Hamilton’s abilities last season when she bore the brunt of her second-round victory at this very event. Hamilton went on to knock off a couple more heavyweights on her way to a third-place finish, but Wright had won three of the year’s first four contests at the time of their initial pairing. So to say she was in top form is even a bit of an understatement.
The world title race is even closer this season with Wright and Stephanie Gilmore tied atop the leaderboard. Weston-Webb actually has a huge say in how that shakes out this week. A first-round win for Tati would almost certainly set up another Tyler-Bethany elimination battle with both relegated to round two.
Spoiler isn’t a role that Tati had relished, but she’s in need of a dramatic turnaround to get back to her top-four status of 2016. Through four contests, she has yet to reach a quarterfinal after reaching eight in 10 contests a year ago. She’s known for being able to handle the heavy stuff as well as many of her more experienced cohorts, so if the barrels are providing, this may be the week her season truly gets started.
That grouping is the main attraction for the start of the contest, but Johanne Defay might be the surfer we’re talking about when the week concludes. Coming off a runner-up showing in Rio, Defay is into fourth place for the season. She’s the defending champ at Fiji, picking up her only 2016 CT victory here last season. That result didn’t translate into a world title contending campaign, but it would put her back in the mix if she were to repeat. She’s fewer than 7,000 points off the lead to start the contest.
For what feels like the first time ever, Carissa Moore does not start the contest as one of the top six seeds. Having slid down to eighth in the rankings, Moore has the most to gain this week. Though she has a huge hill to climb, she has a throwaway score ready to be tossed aside and then three fifth-place finishes. One contest win to replace her ugly 13th from Rio would create an existing, if not obviously visible, path back to the No. 1 ranking.
But it requires that everything starts going in the opposite direction right now. Last season, Fiji was a huge momentum shift but it only temporarily affected the rankings. It can be that and more this season.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.