Tavarua, Fiji, June 15, 2017, Matt “Wilko” Wilkinson won the Outerknown Fiji Pro after a close final heat battle against fellow Australian surfer Connor O’Leary. This is Wilko’s very first event win for the 2017 World Surf League Championship Tour. This win pushed him up four places in the World Tour rankings and he now sits in the number one spot, snatching the Jeep yellow jersey from John John Florence.
The final heat came down to the first head-to-head heat for this year between Matt Wilkinson and Connor O’ Leary. Matt Wilkinson drew first blood with a good 4.00 ride. But O’Leary proved to be a lethal opponent, answering with an 8.33 ride off a couple of solid maneuvers to dominate the first exchange.
O’Leary backed up his score with another 6.50 off a quick tube ride, further increasing his lead. Wilko would not give up too easily and answered with a solid 8.57 ride of his own off some solid carves and turns, finished with a solid snap through the lip. Minutes later he took the lead with a solid 6.93 backup score. But that lead didn’t last long as Connor dropped into a good-sized wave that gave him two tubes, earning him a 7.37 to get the lead back, leaving Wilkinson needing a 7.13 to gain back the lead.
With under four and a half minutes left in the heat, Wilkinson caught just the wave he’d been looking for where he was able to execute two huge carves with a solid snap on the lip to finish his ride. Wilko earned an 8.03 for this ride and this was enough for him to snatch the lead and the event win, to emerge as the 2017 Outerknown Fiji Pro Champion.
Here’s a replay of the final heat of the Outerknown Fiji Pro:
Wilko has been waiting all year to win an event and he got very close to winning events with his 2nd place finish at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast and a 3rd place finish at the Oi Rio Pro. But in Fiji, Wilko survived when most of the top seeds had been eliminated in the early rounds and this gave him an opportunity to cruise through to the number one spot in the World Tour rankings.
This wasn’t the first time Wilko wore the yellow jersey, but it has been a long time since he had it on, since it was taken away from him last year. “It definitely feels good picking up momentum,” said Wilkinson in the post heat interview when asked about his situation now compared to last year when he lost the yellow jersey. He will head over to Jay Bay with a few points ahead of Florence.
Watch Connor and Wilko’s road to the final in this clip below by WSL:
The World Title Race just got more interesting with the results of the Outerknown Fiji Pro in the books. Only a few points separate the top 5 surfers on the world tour. Who will dominate the latter half of the world tour with 6 stops remaining? Share your thoughts in the comments below.