The Roxy Pro Gold Coast resumed as Snapper Rocks finally returned to form.
Kicking things off in Round 3, World No. 4 Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) seemed uncharacteristically off balance. Up against Malia Manuel (HAW) and Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW), Fitzgibbons had a number of falls. Manuel, on the other hand, maintained a consistent forehand attack, tagging the lip multiple times down the line and topping the others with a pair of high sevens.
"It's crucial to make it through Round 3 for me and a huge relief knowing you've made it into the Quarterfinals," said Manuel. "It's a good result for me so I'm really happy."
In the one of the most highly anticipated heats of the day, Heat 2 pitted reigning six-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) against Silvana Lima (BRA). Lima, who had fallen off Tour in 2013 and worked her way back with her ranking on the Qualifying Series (QS) in 2014, defeated Gilmore in Round 1 and held a slight lead in the early stages of their Round 3 rematch. Gilmore fought back with her smooth carves but faltered on more radical maneuvers. Lima threw up an air-reverse at the 10-minute mark for an 8.40, putting Dimity Stoyle (AUS) in a combo situation and Gilmore in search of an excellent-range score. In the waning moments of the heat, Gilmore returned to her classic rail-to-rail power-surfing and earned a 9.00 to claim the heat by a fraction of a point.
"Round 3 is a no-loser round so I wasn't too worried," said Gilmore. "Silvana has the most incredible wave selection. She turns waves that look like a four into a seven or an eight. I had to make sure I picked the right waves and I was lucky that the last one came."
As conditions continued to improve, big scores continued to drop. Tyler Wright (AUS), who had finished at the bottom of her Round 1 heat, opened Round 3 with two big scores. Her opponents, Courtney Conlogue (USA) and Coco Ho (HAW) also tallied scores in the excellent range with fins-free vertical snaps. When Conlogue added in floaters to her seamless, down-the-line drive, she earned the day's second score in the nine-point range -- a 9.50 -- but, unable to find the required backup score, she was relegated to Round 4. Wright, meanwhile, advanced directly into the Quarters with an impressive 17.20 two-wave total.
"It turned out a lot better than I thought it would," said Wright. "The dropping tide is doing wonders for the bank and it's looking really nice right now. I don't spend a lot of time out here, but I had a talk with Mick (Fanning) before about what kind of wave works best with this swell direction. I actually listened to what he said, and I don't usually listen to anyone, and it worked out well."
Round 4 was next, and every top-seeded surfer was able to skip it, except for World No. 4 Fitzgibbons. She had to battle Lima to earn a spot in the Quarterfinals and kicked things off with a 9.63 to put her opponent on notice. Lima would not be deterred, though, launching an air-reverse again for the first 10-point ride of the season.
The last minutes of the heat hosted a flurry of action, with both surfers taking advantage of the glassy open faces but falling on the finishing moves. When the horn sounded, three scores had yet to be judged. In the end, Lima was able to climb out of her combination situation and into the lead for a heart-pounding come-from-behind victory. Fitzgibbons Round 4 elimination ended her streak of 44-straight Quarterfinals.
"This was so good for me," said Lima. "There was a lot pressure for me surfing against Sally, she's so good. I was waiting for the good waves to do my best. I'm always looking for the airs because they push up the scores and I got 10 points. Stephanie is always pushing me."
Another standout surfer in Round 4 was the rookie Weston-Webb, who used her vertical backhand attack to defeat Stoyle in a buzzer-beater in the first heat of the round. She now finds herself in the Quarterfinals of her first CT event as an elite Tour surfer. (Weston-Webb competed in three events in 2014 as an injury replacement for Conlogue and lost in Round 4 in all three.)
"I didn't realize it was so close and that I could still get the score so I'm so relieved," said Weston-Webb. "I jumped up and down when I found out, there was nothing going through me but pure joy. Quarterfinals my first event of the season. I'm so thankful and so psyched to get to surf Snapper with just two girls out."
For the next call, tune in to Dawn Patrol at 7:30 a.m. local. The Roxy Pro Gold Coast is broadcast LIVE at worldsurfleague.com.