Australia's Matt Wilkinson has claimed his first ever World Surf League event win, edging out American Kolohe Andino in a tense final at the Gold Coast Quiksilver Pro.
The 27-year-old Australian has never finished higher than 18th overall during his 7 seasons on the world tour, but finds himself with the leaders' yellow jersey after the first event of 2016. The victory was extra sweet for the Central Coast native, as it was his first final since he was beaten by compatriot Taj Burrow in the O'Neill Coldwater Classic decider back in 2012.
"It's been a long time since my last final... I replayed that last one a thousand times in my head, I was so close", he said following the breakthrough win.
"Going into Bells with the yellow jersey is going to be pretty nice. Bells really suits my surfing. I just want to keep winning.
"There's been so much support throughout this event, it's been amazing. This is my first win on the CT, and it's my seventh year, so I'm hoping this is a big year."
Wilkinson fell behind for a large portion of the final, but an early score of 8.60 meant he held an advantage even while trailing. The Australian seemed happy to sit behind and wait for a defining wave, and he calmly poached the lead with 6 minutes remaining. Andino took it to the wire, though, but fell short of the required 7.38 score on his final wave – managing only 6.83
The Aussie was quick to deliver his secret to winning the event.
"Not losing to anyone (is the secret)", he joked at the podium.
The giant-killing run from Aussie surfer Stuart Kennedy also continued on finals day, as the unsponsored wildcard defeated fan-favourite John John Florence to book a place against Andino in the semi-final. The 26-year-old, who was only competing as an emergency injury replacement, had earlier taken out former world champions Kelly Slater and Gabriel Medina during what he described as a 'dream run'.
"Beating Kelly Slater is definitely the highlight of my life", the Lennox local exclaimed on Twitter.
Filipe Toledo was the red-hot favourite heading into finals day, but he didn't count on a barnstorming run from Wilkinson. The Brazilian led for the majority of his semi-final heat against the Aussie, before Wilkinson rattled off a late 6.60 on his final ride to snatch an unlikely – but not undeserved – spot in the final. Toledo was injured during the heat, however, and was carried from the beach with a suspected back injury following the loss.
Aussie sensation Tyler Wright came up trumps in the women's Roxy Pro, which ran alongside the men's event, taking down last year's runner-up Courtney Conlogue in dominant fashion. The Lennox Head product claimed her 7th world tour event win, backing up her victory at the same event in 2013, as she chases a maiden world title.
1st: Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
2nd: Kolohe Andino (USA)
3rd: Filipe Toledo (BRA)
3rd: Stuart Kennedy (AUS)
5th: Joel Parkinson (AUS)
5th: Adriano de Souza (BRA)
5th: Adrian Buchan (AUS)
5th: John John Florence (HAW)
1st: Tyler Wright (AUS)
2nd: Courtney Conlogue (USA)
3rd: Carissa Moore (HAW)
3rd: Johanne Defay (FRA)
5th: Steph Gilmore (AUS)
5th: Malia Manuel (HAW)
5th: Sage Erickson (USA)
5th: Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW)
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