It was still dark when the boat left Namotu Island carrying ASP Head Judge Richie Porta, Volcom Fiji Pro Contest Director Matt Wilson and current world number one Joel Parkinson. The trio was headed to Cloudbreak to assess conditions and decide whether the contest would run on day one of the waiting period.
The boat pulled up at Cloudbreak in time to see an eight-foot set roll through the lineup.
"Where's KP?" [Kieren Perrow, the surfer's representative who would normally be part of the decision making process] asked Porta.
"In the line up catching bombs," joked Parkinson.
"Well you're it," said Porta. "What do you think?"
"Let's do it," answered Parkinson.
With over 18 months of planning behind the Volcom Fiji Pro, the whole decision process to call the contest on had taken less than 30 seconds. Accurate surf forecasting probably played a big part in the quick call, and no contest director in his right mind could turn down six to eight-foot surf, and if there had been any second thoughts, well, it was too late because the stand-in surfer's representative was already over the side of the boat to join Perrow in the pre-dawn lineup.
The honors for the very first barrel of the contest went to Jordy Smith, a clean eight-foot grinder that came off the reef perfectly. Smith slotted himself inside and cruised through. A nine-point ride to kick off the scoring and he was on his way to winning the first heat.
The first of the Hobgood twins, CJ, was in the second heat and be reassured, nobody wants to get either of the twins in their heats at Cloudbreak. Both grew up surfing the reefs in the area thanks to a Rusty sponsorship and weeks spent on Tavarua Island. Hobgood slotted into a deep inside one, weaving and pumping his way to the exit, throwing a huge claim as he kicked out. From the channel it looked like a high eight pointer or possibly even a nine, but the score came in at a 7.33.
"I thought it could have been a bit more," said Hobgood later. "When you've been surfing this place for so long you know what's a good wave and the score you'd expect to get, I guess it was at the start of the heat so ... I'll take the win though."
The funny thing was that Hobgood had tried to drop into an inside barrel on his paddle back out and had gone over the falls. "I didn't get too many donuts," he joked.
Brother Damien was in the very next heat and CJ sat in the channel yelling instructions and encouragement. He needed all he could get because Taylor Knox pushed him right to the end of the heat. Knox only needed a three-point wave to advance and the pair ended up hunting the lineup side by side. Knox couldn't find the wave and Hobgood was very relieved.
"I love hassling, it's so much fun," was Knox's sarcastic comment as he paddled back to the marshalling boat.
After missing Brazil, Kelly Slater's seeding changed as Parkinson took over the number one spot for this event. Slater sat at number two. Consequently, Parkinson came up against the Fijian wild card Isei Tokovu, known locally as the "Fijian Slater" while the real thing drew Volcom wildcard, Australian Mitch Coleborn. Slater had missed yesterday's opening ceremony because he'd been unwell for a few days. John John Florence had been out of sorts too, but both fronted their heats today. While Florence scraped through his heat right on the hooter, Slater, paddling back out to the lineup watched Coleborn score a second stand-up barrel with just seconds left and forced the champ into the second round.
There was news later that Slater hadn't thought it was a good idea to run today because of some of inconsistency in the conditions, but with six to eight-foot Cloudbreak on offer, the contest was always going to be on.
Mick Fanning continued his recent good run of form and the decision to turn up in Fiji early seems to have paid off.
"I've been here in Fiji for a few days now hanging and surfing with Ace [Adrian Buchan]," he said later. "We knew before we came we'd be in the same heat and it was fun going out for free surfs together, catching the same sort of waves, working out the same spots in the lineup and then paddling out in our heat today. It was tricky for our heat, Ace only caught one wave, Wilko [Matt Wilkinson] got two and I got lucky with a couple of good ones ... all I can say is I'm happy to be back," he added with a laugh.
Jeremy Flores , the lone Frenchman on the tour, showed his tube riding skills again today. At the Billabong Pro at Teahupoo last year the light framed natural-footer scored the perfect 20-point heat score with two 10-point rides. At Cloudbreak he weaved his way down the line nailing a 9.87 and the prestige of having the "wave of the day" to his credit.
This report from the first day of competition can't be wrapped up without mentioning Joel Parkinson again. Many of today's winners fought hard to get through, but Parkinson was drawing ooohs and ahhhs from his fellow competitors sitting in the channel waiting for their heats. One wave in particular stands out. He took off deep, stood tall and casually wove his way through the tube. It was the world number one at his best and an ominous warning that the Volcom Fiji Pro might not be an all goofy-foot affair -- and obviously a very good call this morning. Let's wait to see what tomorrows call delivers.
VOLCOM FIJI PRO ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 13.67, Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 7.67, Brett Simpson (USA) 3.67
Heat 2: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.33, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 8.86, Josh Kerr (AUS) 6.10
Heat 3: Damien Hobgood (USA) 11.00, Taylor Knox (USA) 10.16, Taj Burrow (AUS) 4.17
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 10.60, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 7.10, Willian Cardoso (BRA) 2.93
Heat 5: Mitch Coleborn (AUS) 17.37, Kelly Slater (USA) 13.50, Kai Otton (AUS) 13.27
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.93, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 8.33, Isei Tokovu (FIJ) 2.23
Heat 7: Owen Wright (AUS) 14.87, Tiago Pires (PRT) 11.50, Yadin Nicol (AUS) 10.26
Heat 8: Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.66, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 4.90, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 2.00
Heat 9: John John Florence (HAW) 15.37, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 11.73, Kieren Perrow (AUS) 6.33
Heat 10: Heitor Alves (BRA) 8.70, Julian Wilson (AUS) 6.70, Kolohe Andino (USA) 5.67
Heat 11: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.80, Travis Logie (ZAF) 7.50, Gabriel Medina (BRA) 6.00
Heat 12: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 15.27, Adam Melling (AUS) 9.97, Michel Bourez (PYF) 9.70
VOLCOM FIJI PRO ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Isei Tokovu (FIJ)
Heat 2: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Willian Cardoso (BRA)
Heat 3: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Taylor Knox (USA)
Heat 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 5: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW)
Heat 6: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Yadin Nicol (AUS)
Heat 7: Miguel Pupo (BRA) vs. Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
Heat 8: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Kieren Perrow (AUS)
Heat 9: Tiago Pires (PRT) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)
Heat 10: Brett Simpson (USA) vs. Travis Logie (ZAF)
Heat 11: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 12: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Raoni Monteiro (BRA)