Image: our projected Fiji Pro champion threading the south Pacific needle
The girls are (nearly) done and dusted and the scene is set for event 5 of the Championship Tour.
There's something exciting about a Fiji contest; it's guaranteed to throw up at least one talk-of-the-line-up heat each year (remember Taj's farewell in 2016?). Warm water, great waves, the best competitive surfers in the world. What's not to like? Let's take off late and pull into the numbers:
The WSL's forecasting predicts 'solid surf in the overhead to double overhead range' for the opening Sunday, and promises plenty of waves until Tuesday. Surfline also has a detailed description of the break and its ideal conditions here if you want to get super-into-it.
Simply put, you can expect long, left-hand reef-break conditions regardless of whether they run at Cloudbreak or Restaurants. Cloudbreak seems to be the preferred contest venue (with generally more swell and favourable winds), so you can expect most heats to be run there. When it's smaller, the competitors sharpen their rail skills on the reeling blue walls, but when it's bigger it's all about the barrel; both Cloudbreak and Restaurants differ greatly from Pipe and Tahiti, with often finessed, threaded tuberiding needed as opposed to accurately positioning yourself under the heaving lip and holding your line. Multiple barrels interspersed with big face turns are not uncommon at this event.
That said, here are our hits and misses for Fiji, based on conditions averages and former results.
John John Florence
John dominates our data for this contest, finishing with the top AHS in reefs and 8-10'+ conditions, as well as 2nd in 4-6' waves, 3rd in lefts and 6-8' waves, 4th in average fantasy totals for this event and sixth in 1-4' waves. He covers all conditions well. Where he particularly excels though is in big, left, reef-breaks, which are virtually guaranteed this contest. In his past four appearances here, he's never finished below 5th (but still never made a final). John John is hard to overlook.
Kelly has the best event history here over the past 5 years, with two wins, a 3rd, 5th and 9th. He has said many times that he loves this wave and he is arguably the best to surf it. Just check our interview last year with local boatman Stu Johnson, and you'll get an idea of how revered he is out there. Anyway, looking at the stats, Kelly has the best AHS in lefts, is 2nd in reefs, places 3rd in both AET and EAHS, and 5th in both 6-8' and 8-10' conditions. For his price, Slater is gold for this event. How's that back looking?
The trifecta for go-to surfers in left-hand reefs is complete. Gabe has the highest AHS for this event over the past 3 years and the best average in 4-6' waves. He has the 2nd best average fantasy total, the 2nd best AHS in reefs, and ranks 5th in 1-4' waves and 7th in 6-8' waves. Gabe reached the final here three times over the past 5 years, but also copped a 25th and a 13th in the years between.
In the last 5 years, Owen has only surfed this event 3 times, with two 9ths and a win in 2015. He has the best AET, the second-best EAHS, and ranks 4th in both reefs and lefts. His two perfect heats here in 2015 are now a part of WSL folklore, and he wouldn't look out of place on your fantasy team.
Miggy has competed at this event every year for the past 5 seasons, but never made it past R3. He also has the 2nd-worst AHS in lefts, 3rd-worst in reefs, and stone-cold last for both 6-8' and 8-10'+ conditions.
Jordy has an AHS of 9.02 in lefts, placing him outright last on tour. He placed 5th here in 2013, but hasn't otherwise made it past R3 in the last 5 seasons. Jordy also ranks 6th-worst for an AHS in 8-10'+ waves, so check the forecast.
Wilko defied the odds to snag a 2nd-place finish here last year, but that was a massive break from tradition for him; in the 4 years previous he had three 25ths and a 13th. Despite his final appearance last year, he still ranks 6th-lowest for event AHS.
John John Florence
John John's slip in Rio didn't cost him too much in his overall momentum, with the yellow-jersey holder maintaining the top winning percentage (83.33%) and AHS (15.73).
Adriano de Souza
Adriano's AHS is up to 15.08, while his winning percentage jumped to 70%. Adriano may not be a favourite to win here, but he'd be long odds to go down without a fight.
Where did Ace come from to make that Rio final? The smartest guy on tour pulled a sleeper on us and blitzed his way into our selection possibilities. You could certainly do worse in Fiji than a competition meastro on his forehand in barreling reefs.
Yago's hot streak at Rio was enough to get him a wildcard spot in a completely different event. Mendes and Asing should be pissed. Anyway, Yago could be a massive spoiler again in these waves, especially if he can bring his Rio form to Fiji.
I should preface this by saying that he'll almost definitely be on my team, but doesn't Gabe seem a little 'off' this season? There was a period there when he was damn near untouchable. Now he seems flighty or easily thrown. Hopefully he'll resume his ruthless anhilalation soon.
Leo is still winless this season, and he owns the 2nd-lowest AHS behind Jadson. He looks a shadow of his wildcard-from-2016 self.
Ethan also sits at 0% in his win stats, and ranks only 3 places above Leo in his season AHS. Ewing looked a mess in R2 at Rio, and will need a fresh mindset coming into Fiji.
Hasn't surfed a heat since the Gold Coast, and maybe hasn't even surfed at all. Has anyone see footage? Looks tempting based on stats, but has a major question mark over his post-injury form.
While only a minor consideration when compared to conditions and form, the draw should still be a partial influence. Having 3 surfers in a R1 heat, or worse 2 surfers facing off in R2, is bad form. If you want to play around with heat win and R2 possibilities, we recommend wslbracket.com as a fun way of predicting possible result match-ups. Be aware though that a single change from your projections can alter the following round entirely.
Italo is still back, Filipe stormed out, Nat Young, Yago and local wildcard Gukilau have all been added.
*update: Caio Ibelli has withdrawn with an injury, with Bino Lopes taking his place.
Our R1 “heat of death” nomination for this contest is H8: Medina / Dantas / Young
Our second-ever "is this 2017 or 2007?" nomination is H12: Kelly / Mick / Bede
We like to offer a few suggestions that may not be on everyone’s radar. Any success that involves deviating from the popular vote will provide a huge advantage for players willing to take the risk.
Joel Parkinson will mostly overlooked for the likes of Owen, John and maybe even Wilko, but he's a solid option and could surprise. I have also heard that Kolohe was killing it out there a few weeks back, so I could see him being a sneaky surprise option.
This tier is again stacked, with Kelly, Mick, Gabe, Julian, Flores, and other all vying for your team places. Ace could be a great sleeper here, although he's probably on a few radars after Rio.
There aren't many sleepers that I can strongly suggest for this event, but Josh Kerr sounds like he's worked through his board issues and possibly found his way out of his competitive funk lately. I've blacklisted him for the season though, so I won't be taking him.
Event sponsor. Back-injury victim. Fiji expert. Which Kelly will be we see? Will we see him at all? You'd be a brave man to bet against him turning up, but there's still plenty of mystery around ol' Jimmy Slade.
Watching Italo at the Gold Coast, I was seriously considering him as a title contender. If that DBah injury hadn't cut his momentum short, he'd be a solid top-tier surfer for this event. Instead, you've got to decide whether he's a sneaky bargain for the brave, or a post-injury risk for the foolhardy. Your call.
Nothing personal Tevita, but local wildcards have never made a heat at Fiji. Gukilau had a 25th last year, and it will be a brave man who takes him in 2017. That said, Tevita is a WA surfer with plenty of chops to his game. Don't count him out completely. He'll have John in R1.
Connor knows Cloudbreak better than most, having worked as a boatman for a few seasons before qualifying for the tour. He was beaten early last year, but only because of a stupid interference error.
Here are our “numbers” teams: a selection overview based purely on our projections. They rarely suck, but they don't predict the dark-horses either. join our leagues and see if you can wax them:
Owen, John, Medina, Mick and Slater are balanced with the young blood of Frederico, Yago and Ian G (really!).
Similar to the WSL team, but Owen makes way for Italo, Yago for Zeke, and Ian for Flores.
Now that you know the team break-downs, it’s time for you to create a team that will hold our selections to account. Sign up to our WSL Surf-Stats group (password - SS) or the Fantasy Surfer Surf-Stats clubhouse and challenge yourself against us and our readers. We will give a shout-out to each winner and analyse their team.
As always, feel free to comment or leave your own team selections below.
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