MARGARET RIVER, Western Australia/AUS – The Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, Stop No. 2 of the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT), saw another massive day of action as competition moved back to the primary location at Margaret River Main Break. With five-to-eight foot (1.5 – 2.5 metre) waves on offer, the men’s event saw its first eliminations through Round 2, while the women’s event kicked off the first three heats of Round 1.
The day started with the shock elimination of 2014 WSL Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA). Medina fell out of the draw at the hands of local wildcard Jacob Willcox (AUS). The two goofy-footers went blow for blow in the massive right-handers at Main Break, but Willcox’s local knowledge was too much for the Brazilian super-star. Medina leaves Western Australia with his first throw-away result of the season.
“Local knowledge plays a big part here, but you can never discount anyone on the CT,” Willcox said. “Winning the trials was massive for me, but taking down a former WSL Champion is definitely an awesome feeling. There are plenty of waves around still so it would be awesome if we could drift across to The Box and get some barrels at some stage.”
Three-time WSL Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) was another shock exit from the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro draw after he was upset by Kanoa Igarashi (USA) in Heat 11 of Round 2. Igarashi was on the ropes until a set wave in the last minute gave him a score to move in front by only 0.01 of a point. Fanning was unable to resurrect the situation and uncharacteristically bows out in equal 25th.
“I went into that heat treating it like a final,” Igarashi said. “I felt like I made a mistake on my opening score, which meant I had more in the tank. All heats are nerve-racking but taking on Mick Fanning is especially difficult. He is an amazing competitor and has always been one of my favourite surfers.”
Upsets continued in Heat 2 with injury replacement Nat Young (USA) taking down current World No. 2 Matt Wilkinson (AUS) in a close goofy-foot battle. Falling off the CT at the end of 2016, Young has taken this opportunity as a wildcard to showcase his abilities. His comfort in the cold and wild conditions at Main Break was evident throughout the heat. Wilkinson will exit with a 25th place finish, while Young will have another opportunity to prove himself when he comes up against 2017 World Title contender Kolohe Andino (USA) in Round 3.
“I definitely feel really comfortable in these conditions we get in Western Australia,” Young said. “I have been coming to Margaret River since I was 16-years-old and have a good affiliation with this spot. It reminds me a lot of my home town of Santa Cruz, so I love coming here to compete. There is still pressure to perform at this event, but it’s a different kind of pressure.”
Current Jeep Rankings Leader Owen Wright (AUS) continued his stellar form with a solid performance to win Heat 3 of Round 2. Wright, who recently returned to the 2017 CT full-time, came up against rookie Ezekiel Lau (HAW). Lau was pressing the entire heat, but was unable to better Wright’s 14.00 point total, which was earned with his trademark backhand attack.
“It’s so perfect out there – the conditions are pristine,” Wright said. “Ezekiel [Lau] is such a powerful surfer, so it was always going to be tough in these conditions. I feel like I lucked into the better waves. It was intimidating when I first arrived over here and saw the wild ocean and the forecast we had, but once I had a few surfs and got my feet in the wax, it all came back to me and I’m really loving getting out in this Western-Australian-power.”
Connor O’Leary (AUS) was the only rookie to survive elimination Round 2 after taking out Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) in Heat 10. Only O’Leary and Brazilian charger Ian Gouveia (BRA) will represent the rookie class in Round 3.
“That heat was interesting as I was on a brand new board that I had never surfed before,” O’Leary said. “The conditions have changed a lot since this morning. The wind is up and the swell has dropped a bit so I made a last minute decision to ride a different board, and luckily, it went well. I was hoping the wind would back off a bit, but it actually made it a little better as there are more sections to hit. I’m enjoying the CT. I haven’t changed my mentality at all, I just try to stay really relaxed and not get to worked up before a heat.”
2017 CT Rookie Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) was eliminated from the competition by 2012 WSL Champion Joel Parkinson (AUS) in Round 2 Heat 4. Fioravanti, who earned a fifth place finish at this event last season, put up another stunning performance with two strong 7-point rides, but it was not enough to overtake the Australian Champion. Fioravanti will leave with a 25th place finish.
“That was really fun out there and I was really enjoying myself,” Parkinson said. “Getting to ride a bigger board and really commit to turns is so nice. Leonardo [Fioravanti] is always a threat, particularly in waves like this, so I was definitely feeling the pressure. I’m in a great headspace this year and am really keen to compete, I feel like I’m a grommet again.”
“I’m not too disappointed with that loss,” Fioravanti said. “I was really happy with how I surfed and competing against a guy like Joel Parkinson is never going to be a walk in the park. Joel was lucky to be in the spot when the best waves came and I had priority during a lull in the waves, so it was out of my control. I’m feeling good and will now shift my focus to Bells.”
Rookies Joan Duru (FRA), Ethan Ewing (AUS) and Frederico Morais (PRT) were also unable to escape elimination Round 2 after falling to Filipe Toledo (BRA), Conner Coffin (AUS) and CT veteran Adrian Buchan (AUS), respectively.
2016 WSL Champion Adriano de Souza (BRA), Bede Durbidge (AUS) and Miguel Pupo (BRA) will continue through to Round 3 after winning their match-ups today.
The day continued to see Main Break produce solid waves, with windswept five foot (1.5) conditions through the first three heats of women’s Round 1. With an opportunity to skip elimination Round 2, the women went all-out in the challenging lineup to earn their place in Round 3.
Reigning WSL Champion Tyler Wright (AUS) put on a clinic at Main Break as she posted an excellent 8.67 and 7.67, one of the highest two-wave totals of the day, to take the win over event wildcard Laura Macaulay (AUS) and 2016 Rookie of the Year Keely Andrew (AUS). Wright will skip through to Round 3, while Round 2 will offer Macaulay and Andrew another chance to stay in the event.
“I calculated the win into my plan and knew that that was going to be a factor,” Wright said. “I tried to choose my waves as smart as possible. I am just excited to be here. I am learning a lot with Glenn [Hall]. I feel like this is my second year of really paying attention, having a plan and taking it all in. I am excited for that side and excited to do my thing.”
2017 World Title Contender Courtney Conlogue (USA) edged her way to a heat win with a narrow 0.59-point margin over compatriot Sage Erickson (USA) in Heat 2. Conlogue, runner-up at last year’s Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, showcased her powersurfing and comfort in the difficult conditions to garner enough to advance through. Erickson also displayed great carves, but was not able to turn in a second-wave score to challenge. Erickson and Coco Ho (HAW) will be relegated to elimination Round 2.
“It’s amazing to be back in West Aus,” Conlogue said. “This is a really special place for me. I have had success here in the past and this wave has taught me a lot. It has taught me about dealing with big powerful surf, it has taught me how to surf a bigger board and it has taught me how to use the rail. I love it here and it’s great to be back and get a win under the belt.”
Local favorite Bronte Macaulay (AUS) was not able to make it out of her heat against CT challengers Johanne Defay (FRA) and Malia Manuel (HAW). A slower heat saw Manuel utilize her experience in burly Hawaiian waves to capitalize on Main Break’s opportunities for a 12.93. Macaulay and Defay will surf again in Round 2.
“It’s beautiful to be back in Margaret River,” Manuel said. “It’s pretty wild out there but it’s nice. I haven’t been out at Main Break the last few days, so it was good to get out there on a bigger board. To go out like I did at Snapper was really disappointing, so I went away and reset, and to kick-off with a win here feels good.”
Following the completion of women’s Round 1 Heat 3, conditions deteriorated and event organizers called competition off for the day.
Event organizers will reconvene at 6:30 a.m. local time to reassess the conditions and make the next call.
Surfline, official forecast for the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, are calling for:
Smaller SSW swell leftovers prevail for Friday morning. A strong, new SSW swell will be on the rise over the afternoon with a peak in size late Friday into Saturday before fading Sunday. Favorable wind also looks likely, especially in the mornings, for the next few days. Beyond that, there is greater uncertainty on conditions for next week. While at least medium size swells are possible, local wind may also deteriorate.
The event will be broadcast LIVE via WorldSurfLeague.com, the WSL app and on Facebook LIVE via the WSL’s Facebook page. Also check the local listings for coverage on CBS Sports Network in the U.S., Fox Sports in Australia, ESPN in Brazil, Sky NZ in New Zealand, SFR Sports in France and Portugal and as part of the EDGEsport Network.
For more information, check out WorldSurfLeague.com.