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February downs 2016 champ in Gold Coast action

South African surfer Michael February has caused a major upset as he defeated 2016 event winner Matt Wilkinson of Australia in round two of the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, the first stop on the 2018 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT).

February – the first alternate for the 2018 CT season after narrowly missing out on qualifying for the elite tour at the end of last year – was only officially notified that he was in the event when Kelly Slater (US) withdrew on Monday. The 11-time world champion cited the need to allow more recovery time for the foot he injured at Jeffreys Bay last July.

‘It’s been a weird last couple of days because I didn’t know what to expect from Kelly,’ February said. ‘He messaged me yesterday and explained the situation, which I really appreciated, because I like to understand everything. It would have been nice to be in round one, but I can’t complain and to win my first heat feels incredible.’

The 24-year-old, who honed his skills in the frigid Atlantic Ocean waves around Kommetjie in Cape Town, grabbed his opportunity against Wilkinson in the clean but inconsistent one-metre waves peeling down the storied Snapper Rocks point. Starting out slowly while Wilkinson caught plenty of waves, February used the priority system to select the bigger and longer set waves that enabled him to perform multiple manoeuvres.

With his confidence growing as the heat progressed, the rookie posted a 6.0 to take the lead with five minutes remaining and Wilkinson could not find the 6.03 he needed for the heat win and the two-time finalist was eliminated in equal 25th place overall.

‘Freestyle’ February, as the commentators have affectionately dubbed the lanky South African’s distinctive approach to riding waves, progresses to Round 3 where he will take on Julian Wilson (AUS) when the men’s competition resumes. The World No 3 won his Round 1 encounter on Sunday to advance directly to Round 3.

A massive upset kicked off the first men’s elimination round of the year with current World No 1 John John Florence (HAW) eliminated by event wildcard Mikey Wright (AUS). The young competitor has made it clear that he will work hard to reach the elite CT and join his siblings, Tyler and Owen Wright, by continuing to prove himself in the Qualifying Series tour, the pathway where surfers earn their way to the top competition ranks.

Meanwhile, February’s SA compatriot, Jordy Smith, will be up against rookie Michael Rodrigues (Brazil) in Round 3 after the World No 4 skipped Round 2 by winning his opening clash of the year on Sunday.

Picture: WSL/Sloane