Big and wild, that’s West Oz. Competitors were scratching for their step ups this morning when news filtered in that they’d be on at Mainbreak. And it sure made for good theatre. Hell drops, big turns and long carving arcs that showed the men from the boys.
Trials winner and local wildcard Jacob Willcox delivered the first big upset of the morning. Facing former world champ, and Brazilian god, Gabriel Medina, the Margies local rose to the occasion. Medina drew first blood with a 5.67 but patience paid off for the West Australian. He hit back with a 5.43, each wrapping cutback sending plumes of spray way up and out into the Indian Ocean. Sensing time was running out Medina safety surfed his way to a 3.33 leaving Willcox with priority with six minutes to go. The mistake was costly. Medina disrespected the Australian’s local knowledge. He who lives here knows how WA swells work – the angles, tides, the markers, and he clicked with the dropping swell’s undulating rhythm. With priority Willcox scratched into a bomb. Took off blind, Christ-like, dropping into the massive right, negotiating the bumps and cracked it straight under the lip before carving the wonky shoulder. The cheeky grom then sold Gabe into a burger with less than a minute to go. It was wild to watch. He is currently somewhere fizzing about potentially surfing The Box against John John in round 3.
What makes a man more dangerous—a man who has everything to fight for, or a man who has had everything taken from him? Nat Young is both these men. You could tell the Santa Cruz screwfoot wanted to crush Wilko in round 2. Falling off tour is not a place you want to be when your contract is up for renegotiation, you have zero freesurf video part cred and aren’t a marketer’s wet dream. Nat outsmarted the current world number 2 and belted the lip with pent up aggression. As the heat wore on Wilko started to crack under pressure. He made priority mistakes, the knees started to wobble and he looked like he was surfing at 50 per cent. Meanwhile, Nat’s victory lap 7.83 showed why he tends to do well on big chunks of cold water. He hasn’t made the quarters and semis in the past three years here for nothing. He’s a dark horse with a deadly snap on a mission to requalify.
Filipe Toledo v Joan Duru wasn’t an upset but more a heat to watch. Specifically, to see if Filipe had the chopes in the big stuff. His rail game in 3-4 foot stuff is undeniably strong but his aptitude in 6-8 foot waves has been questionable for years. His wiry, spider frame wasn’t going above the lip at Mainbreak and that meant he was always playing catch up against any of his heavyweight competitors. But the Brazilian took a scalpel to the big warbling right. He drove hard off the bottom and held his rail through turns matching the Frenchman’s power and sensibly finishing all of his waves. He finished the heat with a pair of 7s, a smidgen of respect from the critics with signs that he’s not afraid to step up.
Let’s turn our attention to the upset of the day featuring, Mick Fanning. White Lightening got sushi rolled by Kanoa Igarashi in a heat dogged by a light onshore wind. It was a game of inches. Mick’s opening 7.43 was typically smooth and precise. Kanoa slugged back with a 7.67, his longer Merrick whip, which squirted more spray and carried the Californian like a Cadillac over the lumpy lips. Whatever heat strategy corner-man and WA local, Jake Patterson had implored Kanoa to stick to it was working. He didn’t panic when Mick backed up with a 5.33 – a wave he failed to finish which ultimately came back to haunt him. With the sets less consistent, Kanoa held onto priority, tagged the lip and settled for a mid-range 5. Mick looked stranded on the island of nowhere. His world title run about to hit a major snag. He rolled the dice with 30 seconds to go but the foot stomp finish said it all. He charged up the competitor’s area like a wounded bull. See ya at Bells.
The ramifications of round 2 have thrown the world title race wide open. All eyes will be on Kelly to see if the 11x world champ can leapfrog his rivals and make a run for a fairy-tale world 12th world title or firt things first, at least the top of the Jeep leaderboard. We know the King is most dangerous when he’s running on momentum. And after a fistful of barrels over the bay today at The Box he’ll be urging the commissioner to move competition to the oblong slab at first light.
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