“Normally, you’d expect a Kelly Slater vs John Florence final at Fiji. But Matt Wilkinson doesn’t do normal, instead he leans more toward eccentricity to make his mark…” Euro rookies, the coaches, WSL commentary and Wilko then and now… In this report The Chairman aka Glen Drysdale (who watches the WSL from the comfort of his armchair) tells us what we learnt from the 2017 Outerknown Fiji Pro.
Matt Wilkinson didn’t drop a heat on his way to becoming the 2017 Outerknown Fiji Pro Champion by defeating fellow Australian rookie sensation, Connor O’Leary, in the final. He was consistent, stealth, precise and strategic. He was everything ‘Wilko’ wasn’t three years ago. Eight lay days on an island paradise with unlimited supply of beer would surely have unravelled the steeliest resolve of the Wilko of past.
Instead it was a master class of fortitude, focus and adding the fine touches that make all the difference to a performance when you need it most. And now, the ‘Court Jester’ who grew up, is wearing the yellow jersey again, and one gets the feeling, it’s a way more comfortable fit. This time Wilko snatched it from John Florence, not the other way around, and it may just be less of an emotional battle to hold onto, than to protect.
The key difference was how Wilko read every heat. He went to the rail when others looked for collapsing tubes, he paced waves to near perfection, burning off speed by knifing the inside rail, staying light when it was necessary and dropping the hammer when it was called for. Sure, others showed glimpses of the same composure, Connor O’Leary, Julian Wilson, Michel Bourez and Sebastian Zeitz come to mind, but it was the consistency of Wilko that did all the damage.
Ironically, going into J-Bay last year was the beginning of the end for Wilko’s world title run. How quickly things can change…
Three things we learnt in Fiji
1. The Euro is strong
Leo Fioravanti and Joan Duru both packed quarter final finishes, proving that the European contenders, are just that. Fioravanti took care of Florence with Duru cleaning out Saffa hope Jordy Smith with relative ease. To level world title contenders in round three and push on to the quarters in conditions that asked a lot of anyone’s abilities speaks volumes for the Euro rookies. With Leo’s rail snaps and tightness in the pocket as well as Duru’s ability to really drive the barrel, they will both be genuine threats at J-Bay.
2. Having the right coach helps
Glen ‘Micro’ Hall does it again with Wilko and Luke Egan finals with O’Leary. Sure, some would argue that having a coach maybe oversubscribing a bit in a sport where the athlete really is his own coach, but whatever Wilko’s needing to hear from Glen Hall’s microphone, seems to be working. And Egan is certainly making all the right inroads with O’Leary who now has a very good grip on how things work, as well as a pretty solid lead on the Rookie of the Year title race.
3. The WSL commentary format needs an overhaul
The current format is not working. At all. Where’s the insight, the analysis and the compelling back stories that push and drive the athletes to really want to do this? I want to know, I want to be entertained! Please can’t the WSL ask some really hard questions as to what it is that commentating should be doing for its audience? It should be adding value, not filling in dead space with mixed metaphors and clichés. I want to know the human truth behind Matt Wilkinson, not hear another interview with his coach. And I certainly don’t need reminding that… “Here we are folks… in the South Pacific.”
Looking forward to J-Bay, the return of Jordy Smith, the potential for stretched out 8ft Supers walls, and of course… the armchair!
See you there,
*Images © WSL
**Words by Glen Drysdale