Kerr Emerges Victorious at the Four Seasons Maldives Champions Trophy
Josh Kerr claims back-to-back victories at the 2019 Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, and in doing so performed what judges have dubbed the single most incredible manoeuvre in the event’s history. Photo: AquaTech.
In this the ninth year running for the world’s most luxurious surfing event, invited surfers, like those from previous years, were fortunate enough to experience the opulence and beauty of their surroundings at the Four Seasons Resort Kuda Huraa. Something that needs to be seen to be believed. The event takes place at a perfect right hand reef break (Sultans) and to make things even more extraordinary, competitors and guests are able to watch all the action unfold aboard the Four Seasons Explorer, a luxurious 39-metre three-deck catamaran.
The Four Seasons Explorer - event sites don't get any better than this!
Sultans – The stage for the world’s most luxurious surfing event
The Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy typically hosts a diverse assemblage of surfers, and when this year’s field was announced, it was touted as the most exciting in the event’s history. A world class collection comprising former World Champion Joel Parkinson (AUS), 2019 Waterman of the Year Kai Lenny (HAW), big wave goofy foot charger Wiggolly Dantas (BRA), multiple Championship Tour event winner Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Maldivian wildcard Mohamed ‘Pelle’ Fayaz and of course defending champion Josh Kerr (AUS).
Drama ensued before the first heat was run, with a passport expiration oversight leaving Wiggolly Dantas stranded in America and unable to attend the event. Thus leaving a field of five surfers to battle it out, (in a most luxurious sense), for the coveted 2019 Four Seasons Maldives Champions winners trophy, and a slice of USD25,000 prize money.
The Champions Trophy event platform is built from a unique format, designed to test some of the world’s best surfers skills across three separate disciplines; Single Fin (1970s), Twin Fin (‘70s and ‘80s) and Thruster (‘90s onwards) divisions in surfing. This unique format is intended to showcase a surfer’s depth of talent whilst paying homage to the evolution of modern surfing.
Another distinctive and noteworthy aspect of the Champions Trophy event is the age handicap structure, whereby elder competitors are afforded longer heat times than their younger counterparts. This one-of-a-kind format continually delivers thrilling heats, and the 2019 event was no exception.
To determine the grand finalists, a points accumulation is tallied across the three divisions respectively, resulting in two surfers with the highest points total being chosen to compete for victory in the Champions Trophy, whereby competitors are allowed to surf a craft of their choice.
2019 Waterman of the Year Kai Lenny – This year’s youngest competitor was a standout performer. Photo: AquaTech.
Day 1: Single Fin Division
The Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy got off to an incredible start with racy overhead walls at Sultans, providing the perfect canvas for some of surfing’s finest artisans to go to work on their single fins, in the first of three surfboard divisions. In a rematch of the 2012 Pipeline Master final, which served as Australian Joel Parkinson’s world title coronation, Parkinson came up against lifelong friend and fellow Australian, Josh Kerr. “Don’t get me started on the judging at Pipe in that one!” laughed a fired-up Kerr before their showdown.
Parkinson has long been considered the most stylish surfer of his generation, and that theory escalates further when he rides a single-fin. This year’s competitors arrived armed with modern takes on the staple surfboard design of the ’60s and ’70s, and Parkinson put on a high performance display from the start in the final, signalling his intentions with a big aerial on his opening wave to lock in a 7.33, backed up soon after with an 8.43 to place one hand on the trophy at the halfway mark. It wasn’t to be, however, as defending event champion Kerr stormed home with an 8.50 for a series of explosive manoeuvres, then a 7.90 for a huge hit on the opening section and a string of fluent turns down the line, to win the day in the dying minutes and move to the top of the event leaderboard with the twin-fin and thruster divisions still to run.
“To come to Four Seasons, score pumping waves on the first day and take the win, it doesn’t really get much better!” said an elated Kerr after the final. “The vibe is great but we’re all old competitive souls so once the contest jersey goes on we want to win. Joel and I grew up in the same board riders club; he’s older than me, was always in the spotlight and has definitely got the better head-to-head record, which makes this win even sweeter.”
Day 2: 'Lay Day'
The following day, and greeted by onshore conditions, Contest Director Ross Phillips gave the call for a ‘lay day’. At your regular event this means pulling out the cards or heading to the golf course, but for competitors at the world’s most luxurious surfing event things run a little differently. The new Flying Triggerfish, Four Seasons Resorts Maldives private luxury seaplane, was called into duty and Josh Kerr, Joel Parkinson, Matt Wilkinson, Kai Lenny and local wildcard Mohamed “Pelé” Fayaz took off (literally) in search of sheltered waves at the other end of the Maldivian archipelago.
Day 3: Twin Fin Division
The twin-fin division of the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy was run and won in clean head-high tubes at Sultans, with competitors reveling in the dreamy conditions on offer at the right hand point break. After meeting in the final of the single-fin division, it was again Australians Joel Parkinson and Josh Kerr who squared off in the last heat to decide the twin-fin champion for 2019.
After an incredible afternoon of surfing, the final was the icing on the cake for spectators as Parkinson and Kerr went back and forth, exchanging long tubes, vicious turns and the lead a number of times. There could only be one winner, however, and as the final hooter sounded it was 2012 world champion Parkinson who gained his revenge for the earlier single-fin loss with an incredible 17.36 two-wave total to better Kerr’s 16.64, and claim the second of the three divisions. Parkinson did the damage with consecutive waves at the halfway mark, backing up an 8.33 with a 9.03 for a long, double-barrelled drainer. With Kerr already sitting on an 8.67 he spent the rest of the bout on the hunt for an almost identical 8.69, and although he had a number of opportunities he couldn’t quite overhaul his fellow Queenslander, a 7.97 the best of his attempts as the waves continued to cook.
“That was amazing,” said Parkinson, “Wave after wave after wave. They’re the finals you dream of. There were two waves in every set, which was even better. You could get back to the top and say, ‘you have the first one, I’ll have the second one!’ It was an amazing day of surfing. The whole Four Seasons experience has been incredible, the hospitality, the staff and just how luxurious it is, it’s really something I could get used to. I see myself and the family spending a lot more time here in future.”
Day 4: Thruster Divison
In the final of the thruster division, 2019 Waterman Of The Year, Hawaiian Kai Lenny, took out three-time Championship Tour event winner Matt Wilkinson, from Australia. After non-stop waves saw Lenny and Wilkinson knock out Kerr and Parkinson in the semi-finals the ocean then went to sleep for the thruster division’s decider. Famed for his big wave surfing and multi-board heroics it was an ecstatic Kai Lenny who claimed the win with a 12.00 total after Wilkinson only caught one wave in the encounter, a 6.33.
“When I saw the roster for this event I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep up,” said Lenny. “But, with each round I got more comfortable, and come the thruster division I was definitely feeling more comfortable. I was watching the rest of the guys closely, and felt like I was improving with every wave. I’ll definitely take some confidence from this win, especially in really good waves up against a field of Championship Tour.
“I was blown away by how good the single and twin-fins were, they seemed magic! We were surfing some decent sized waves and I was doubtful, but the performance level was different, and there’s something really refreshing about the lines you have to draw. The Maldives are the ultimate playground, they offer every type of condition for every type of activity, and even when the surf is supposedly no good it’s still firing!
Day 4 Continued: Champions Trophy Final
The event final took place in pulsing, overhead conditions at Sultans with Australian Josh Kerr claiming victory at the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy for the second year running. He and fellow Australian Joel Parkinson won the single fin and twin-fin divisions respectively to book their spots in the Grand Final matchup, despite earlier falling in the semi-finals of the thruster division. The pair’s third and deciding battle for the week lived up to the hype, the two Championship Tour veterans going blow-for-blow in a gripping encounter worthy of the occasion.
Parkinson kicked off proceedings with an 8.5 and a 7.27 to take an early lead, but things were just getting started. Kerr opened his account with a 7.17 and then a 9.33 to move into the lead, before it quickly swung back to 2012 World Champion Parkinson when he unleashed a series of trademark swoops and vertical stabs up into the lip for a 9.17. Kerr was on the wave behind however and pulled off the most incredible manoeuvre ever witnessed at the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, an explosive grab rail reverse (also known as a Club Sandwich) performed on an incredibly critical opening section of the wave. The dynamic display netted 2001 World Airshow Champion Kerr a near-perfect 9.93, and won him the event.
“I already had a couple of good scores,” said Kerr after his win, “So I decided to put everything I could into my next wave and see if I couldn’t put the final nail in the coffin. It was a steep, gnarly section, as I was bottom turning I was thinking to myself, ‘what are you doing!’ but went for it anyway. Somehow I came out of it really clean and had the biggest smile on my face for the rest of the wave, it was really cool.”
“Kerrzy went to town on me!” said Parkinson at the presentation. “I thought I started really well, then next thing you know I was on the ropes! Kerrzy had a 9.33 and nearly a perfect 10, and even though I had 9.17 of my own I was still chasing a combination and pretty much packed it in and headed back to the boat with four minutes to go! This week’s more about the beauty of the Maldives as much as the surf contest though, and to get to share all of this with my family is really special. Riding different boards was incredible too! I’ve been asked a lot over my career and never been able to choose, but I’m pretty sure now that my twin-fin is the board I’d ride for the rest of my life if I had to pick one!”
“Obviously the prize money and the trophy are cool,” said Kerr, “but getting to come back here to Four Seasons Maldives is the real reward. Today is my 13th wedding anniversary, lucky number 13, so that’s a great anniversary present for my wife, as well as having the kids here. I didn’t win too many events during my career, so it’s extra cool to win this in front of them!”
The Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy is hosted at the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa with guests able to watch all the action aboard the Four Seasons Explorer – the Maldives’ ultimate surf vessel.