Stop the presses there’s a new judging criteria. The WSL don’t score *barrels! Well, that’s not entirely what Richie Porta had to say this morning but just look at these results: Owen Wright defeats Mick with radical backhand snaps and goofy-foot rookie Connor O’Leary does the same and flushes Julian out of the draw.

Mick’s slashing surgical approach matched against Owen’s vertical attack was full of so many contrasts. Mick had spent the previous year ticking off destinations on his bucket list and discovering perfect waves. Owen had been rallying himself back to health after a brain bleed and becoming a Dad. His rehab has been done behind closed doors with much speculation around whether he would return.

Mick picked the eyes out of his first wave. Swooping down the line with a massive tail drift to classic body torque snap to post a 7.83. He backed it up quickly trying to swing the momentum from the man of the moment his way. Dropping into a quick little in-and-out barrel mixing up his rail game and showing his strengths to post a 5.00.  

Owen let rip on his first wave sticking it straight into the pocket and blasting golden rooster tails to the sky. He might have fallen on this finish but it was a respectable 7.00.

It was his second wave however that really set the tone. He flung his lanky frame into two beyond vertical snaps. It was clear that Mick looked like he was slashing with a blade while Owen was swinging an axe. The score came in at 8.10 and the Big O took the lead.

With Owen commanding priority Mick snuck a wave underneath him down the line and went absolutely ham and eggs. The dreamy, ribbon barrel lined up through the inside perfectly as Mick parked in the Little Marley tunnel that was as good as it gets. It looked like he would easily get the score, take the heat, win the event … but the judges wouldn’t have it! It came in at a 7.17, .09 short. Time ran out, Owen held priority, the ocean went flat and the Wright family and fans started to go nuts.

“I think me and Mick really wanted that battle you could see that we were going wave for wave,” said an exhausted and gaunt looking Owen after the win.

Mixed emotions for Mick Fanning after losing to his good mate Owen Wright. Photo: WSL

“When the heat was over you could see we were friends. We went through a big year off together and we just love competing. That was the talk at the end…I couldn’t have had a heat with a better bloke.”

In the post heat wash up Owen revealed that he had spent most of 2016 digesting the injury and the massive changes in his life. More telling was that it wasn’t until November that he had actually begun to start feeling confident he would return to competition.

“For 11 months it was a little bit like I was pretty caught up in it, it was a bit of a rollercoaster. Then from I dunno, November onwards I really started to click into gear and start working on things…So many little things have just come together and I’ve tried to get my head right and process all the things that have happened and all the changes in my life, all the beautiful things in my life—my baby boy and my partner and Tyler winning the world title [laughs]. There’s just been so many good things that have happened it was—,” said Owen before cutting himself off aware that the story of his past 12 months could go on for hours.

 

Julian Wilson v Connor O’Leary looked like it’d be a one sided affair. Jules hasn’t been shy telling anyone within earshot that he’s coming for the world title in 2017. He looked solid on his first wave, typically blazing with his switchblade snaps.  

But it was the big backhand cracks that the judges were rewarding and Connor had them in droves. Julian’s 8.77 was the highest single wave score of the heat and showed his full repertoire to the judges as he carved through his turns with an executioner’s approach.

When O’Leary let rip and posted a 7.60 he’d suddenly turned the screws on J-Dub who must’ve been wondering how his barrel still left him marooned and chasing a score. The Cronulla boy admitted to Kaipo that he had drawn confidence from Owen’s upset win.

“Owen is a person I’ve been looking up to my whole life and trying to emulate his backside to mine and watch him,” said a beaming O’Leary. “To see him get big scores for the turns he was doing I thought, ‘ Well ok I’ll see if I can do the same things and get scores,” gushed the Cronulla screwfoot who seemed more surprised than anyone that he had just knocked Julian out of the draw.

With the ruler edged perfection marching into Snapper Rocks it was hard for the rookie not to contain his excitement at relief and being on the world stage. “It’s pretty hard not to be satisfied with the waves right now it’s pumping,” said O’Leary. “There’s only one other person out there with perfect Snapper, that’s satisfying enough.”

*UPDATE!

Kelly gets barreled off his dome against Frederico Morais and is rewarded with an 8.33! Our faith is restored in the judging criteria, Kelly’s boards and the veterans left in the event.