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Saturday, June 9, 2012
Updated: June 11, 2:25 AM ET
Running and gunning at Restaurants

By Peter "Joli" Wilson

Kelly Slater
Slater's spent maybe more time than anybody on tour at Tavarua, and it showed as he posted a perfect 10-point ride at Restaurants to advance into the quarters.
Preview Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Final

The Volcom Fiji Pro moved from Cloudbreak to its back up venue of Restaurants today for the running of rounds three and four. To say the start of the day was anti-climatic after yesterday's session at Cloudbreak is a massive understatement.

How do you put a positive spin on watching four- to six-foot turquoise barrels rolling down a live coral reef somewhere deep in the South Pacific ocean when less than 24 hours earlier you just watched the most incredible waves you've ever seen in your life break not more than four miles away? Good question and there is more than just one answer.

The buzz around the breakfast tables on Namotu Island, where most of the Australian contingent from the Top 34 have been staying, was still about the prior day's waves. At one table the occupants were studying a still shot of a wave where Mark Healey had ripped off his leash in an attempt to duck dive. The image showed Healey's 8'6" board suspended in the lip and the guys were speculating on the actual size of the wave. Heights of 35 to 40 feet were being suggested with someone even suggesting it could have been as high as 50 feet.

Some of the Australians had already been knocked out of the contest, while others like Adrian Buchan, Taj Burrow and Bede Durbidge were surfing in the first two heats. Durbidge and Burrow were about to go head-to-head and were trying to get into their own little zones, despite having to get into the same boat heading to Restaurants and prepare for their heat sitting less than three feet apart.

CJ Hobgood
CJ Hobgood came out firing in round three, charging passed South Africa's Jordy Smith, but came up short against Adriano De Souza by less than half a point in the following round.

Durbidge had explained earlier in the morning that paddling into an empty lineup at Cloudbreak yesterday felt surreal. "I just didn't know where to sit in the lineup," he said. "Both [Adam] Melling and I were just guessing at the start. They were the biggest waves I've ever surfed in a contest and I was just thankful to make it through." Today Durbidge couldn't stuff his six-foot plus frame into the backhand barrels at Restaurants and was promptly knocked out by Burrow.

Buchan found himself on the losing end of one of the day's highlights: a perfect 10 point ride from John John Florence. Observers around the contests and even his fellow competitors are still coming to grips with the surfing abilities of Florence. He seems to be able to do it all: ride big barrels on his backhand or forehand, go to the air when needed, put his boards on a rail, and it's all done with virtually no effort. He seems to be able to instinctively ride a wave and know when to exert effort and when to release, especially in the barrel, like he did numerous times today.

"I'm still reeling from those waves," said Florence in his post heat interview. "This has been the best trip of my life and the waves we've had have been some of the best of my life too. Yesterday we had Cloudbreak about as big and perfect as it gets and today we're getting four barrels a wave at Restaurants. It's unbelievable."

Kelly Slater has the same kind of connection with his surfing and the waves. In his round four heat against Owen Wright and Heitor Alves, Slater displayed his backhand tube riding to perfection, nailing the contest's fourth perfect 10-point ride. Slater and Wright met in three back-to-back finals last year with Slater winning two and Wright getting one back, the big one, winning the Quiksilver Pro New York final and the huge paycheck of $300,000.

Judge's Tower
Even the judges have it pretty good on Tavarua. Not a bad office space.

"The problem about beating Kelly is that he always wants to get you back," Wright half joked later and they had traded waves in a barrel-rich round four heat. "I knew I'd had a good wave," said Wright, "but Kelly got one better right behind me. I actually asked the head judge about the scores and he said that probably I would have got a point or so higher than my 8.5 if the wave had been later in the heat."

Slater's score: a perfect 10 for a wave where he parked himself in the barrel, using his body to slow his speed and not letting go until he'd traveled 50 to 60 yards along the reef. "In truth, today is a bit anti-climatic when compared to what went down yesterday afternoon," said Slater. "However, it is really good out there and there is some really good surfing going down." 

Gabriel Medina and CJ Hobgood provided the other two highlights of today. CJ nailed the other perfect 10-point ride in a close-fought heat against Jordy Smith, while Medina clawed his way into the lead of his round four clash with Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning on his last ride of the heat. Two forward air reverses joined by two off the top hacks ripped the win from Parkinson's grasp.

Watching surfers drop 10-point rides is one way to keep the interest alive. Another is watching the rivalry between Slater and Wright, and lastly the continued emergence of John John Florence as a complete contest surfer. The Volcom Fiji Pro has a very good chance of wrapping up tomorrow. It will probably be run back at Cloudbreak. With just 11 heats to run we are in for an interesting day; but this contest could be remembered more for the day of massive waves and big-wave free surfing that went down when the contest didn't run rather than the crowning of a champ in four to six-foot surf.

Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) 15.00 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 10.00
Heat 2: John John Florence (HAW) 19.30 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 11.67
Heat 3: Damien Hobgood (USA) 13.73 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.06
Heat 4: Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.00 def. Tiago Pires (PRT) 2.36
Heat 5: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.93 def. Alejo Muniz (BRA) 7.80
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 18.00 def. Mitch Coleborn (AUS) 15.00
Heat 7: Kelly Slater (USA) 18.14 def. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 12.50
Heat 8: Heitor Alves (BRA) 13.90 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 10.87
Heat 9: Owen Wright (AUS) 19.27 def. Brett Simpson (USA) 4.00
Heat 10: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 17.33 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 17.13
Heat 11: Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.83 def. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 12.34
Heat 12: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.66 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 10.87

Heat 1: John John Florence (HAW) 13.17, Damien Hobgood (USA) 11.94, Taj Burrow (AUS) 9.13
Heat 2: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.16, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 14.17, Mick Fanning (AUS) 10.50
Heat 3: Kelly Slater (USA) 18.33, Owen Wright (AUS) 17.90, Heitor Alves (BRA) 10.86
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 13.40, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.80, Julian Wilson (AUS) 10.40

Heat 1: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Mick Fanning (AUS)
Heat 2: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Taj Burrow (AUS)
Heat 3: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. C.J. Hobgood (USA)
Heat 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Heitor Alves (BRA)