The last time the ASP Women's World Tour stopped in Fiji was 2006, when Melanie Redman-Carr won the Roxy Pro Fiji. If Rebecca Woods, Silvana Lima, and Sofia Mulanovich (a former Fiji Pro winner) had stuck around just one more year, they'd have been the only three women on tour to bridge two distinct generations and compete at Tavarua after the event's eight-year hiatus. As it is, none of the old guard remains and the Fiji Women's Pro feels more newborn than reborn.
What can we expect from stop number five of the world tour? Well, put simply, excitement. Cloudbreak, the primary event venue, is a heavy, left-hand barrel with a predisposition to perfection. But it's also dangerous, especially at low tide, as it carries a lot of weight and breaks over razor-sharp coral. It works with several different swell directions and holds a heck of a lot of size. Guess what's in the forecast? A nice system rolling in from the southwest that'll build from four to seven-foot on Sunday and could be over ten-feet on Wednesday. Hold on ladies, things are about to get weird.
"Different waves favor different styles of surfing -- and hence, different surfers," wrote ASP Deputy Commissioner Jessi Miley-Dyer in her season preview. "Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses as an athlete. As keen observers of the men's tour would have noticed, we expect the aerialists to do well at Trestles and the chargers to do well at Cloudbreak. The women's WCT has predominantly been held in beach breaks over recent years, and I will predict right now that the potential for a ratings shakeup is very high with the addition of Fiji. Should it be sizey, there are three goofy-footers [Alessa Quizon, Bianca Buitendag, and Paige Hareb] who will have the distinct advantage of being on their forehand."
Actually, make that five: Hawaiian Tatiana Weston-Webb, the ASP injury wildcard, will be competing in Courtney Conlogue's stead, and New Zealander Ella Williams scored the event wildcard.
"I feel so lucky [and] honored to receive the wildcard for an amazing, historic event. It's something I've always dreamt of being [a part of] and now, I have the opportunity! It's just so exciting, I cannot wait to get into it," says Williams, the reigning ASP women's world junior champion.
The top-ranked Hawaiians Carissa Moore, Malia Manuel and Coco Ho definitely have an edge when it comes to sizeable, powerful reef breaks. But for Tyler Wright and Steph Gilmore, who hail from the land of perfect right-hand point breaks, it's a different story. Wright and Gilmore are both aggressive, fearless barrel fiends who have the strength and experience to tame Cloudbreak.
Wright told Rosy Hodge in Rio, "I don't normally go left, as a general rule, but I'm super excited. I think [Fiji] is going to be one of those events that defines women's surfing."
Should the event move to the backup site, Restaurants, new schoolers might just steal the show. Restaurants is smaller than Cloudbreak and it's typically fast, but a wipeout in the wrong place can have serious consequences, as it also breaks over a super sharp reef.
Heading into the Fiji Pro, current world champ Moore has a tenuous lead over Sally Fitzgibbons and Wright in the world title ranking, but they're all within striking distance, and Gilmore is just a few thousand points behind them. Lakey Peterson, Malia Manuel, and Buitendag (five, six, and seven) are all within 1,700 points of each other. This event is just about halfway through the season and a single slip-up could cost anyone several rungs on the ladder. We're in for quite a show.
The Fiji Women's Pro will run from May 25 to 30.