Connor O’Leary has scored the biggest win of his young career, eliminating 11-time world champion Kelly Slater at the Outerknown Fiji Pro on Tuesday.
The Cronulla surfer ended Slater’s quest to win the event for a fifth time to continue his outstanding rookie World Surf League Championship Tour campaign.
O’Leary’s victory continued a trend in round three heats, with lower-ranked seeds continually getting the better of their opponents with Owen Wright, Jordy Smith, John John Florence, Mick Fanning and Gabriel Medina among the big names to be eliminated.
Slater was unable to continue his dominance at Cloudbreak and never found his groove against the 22-year-old O’Leary, posting wave scores of 3.67 and 6.67 in tricky conditions.
The result meant Slater, widely regarded as the greatest surfer of all-time, has failed to progress past the third round at his last three events.
O’Leary would take the low-scoring heat with waves of 5.17 and 5.57 to advance to the fourth round, no doubt impressing coach Luke Egan who won the same contest in 2000.
O’Leary described the win as a dream come true.
“It always sucks to win like that, low-scoring. But I’m over the moon,” he said.
“I thought the energy was there at the start. I thought it was going to be such a good heat of waves. Then it went to nothing. I was kind of glad I had two average scores to finish it off.
“I knew if I could split a wave from Kelly and sit inside and get those little grindy ones I’d get half decent scores to build throughout the heat.
“I made a few errors on a few waves I could have maximised my score on but yeah, [I’m] stoked.
“I had a heat with him at the Triple Crown earlier this year and got one up on him. And now I’ve got another one. [I’m] over the moon.”
Sitting in 15th place before Fiji, O’Leary earned his first straight-to-round-three result when he took down Ian Guevara and Sebastian Zietz in round one.
The result continued O’Leary’s impressive season so far, highlighted by a fifth-placed finish in his first CT event at the Quicksilver Pro on the Gold Coast in March.
He is yet to lose in the first round and has secured three 13th-placed finishes.