With her win at the Fiji Women's Pro, Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) moves into the third spot on the Jeep Leaderboard. Propelled by her Round 3 heroics that saw her post huge scores in spite of an injured eardrum, Fitzgibbons powered through heavy conditions at Cloudbreak, earning four near-perfect scores to break back into the Top 5. In fact, finals day in Fiji saw a serious overhaul of the women's rankings, signaling a shift in women's surfing that has been long-anticipated, but surprising nonetheless.
The top ranks of women's surfing have been dominated by Tyler Wright (AUS), Carissa Moore (HAW), Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) and Fitzgibbons -- sometimes referred to as the "Fabulous Four." Of those, only Fitzgibbons found herself in the later rounds of the event.
Gilmore, the reigning World Champion, did not compete in Fiji, having to miss a second contest due to a knee injury. But unexpectedly, Moore and Wright, No. 1 and No. 3 respectively on the Jeep Leaderboard, were defeated early on finals day.
The first to fall was Moore, ranked World No. 1, who was ousted by Lakey Peterson (USA) in Round 4. Peterson went on to break through to the Quarterfinals for the first time since Rio last season (more than a year ago).
"It was so good to get into the Semifinals and get my best result of the year especially here," said Peterson. "This isn't a wave that I'm too comfortable in so it's a big personal goal of mine. I wish I could have gone further but I'm happy with it."
Johanne Defay (FRA) was another giant-slayer of the day, defeating Wright in Round 4 and then World No. 2 Courtney Conlogue (USA) in the Quarterfinals. With Moore out of the event, the door was wide open for Conlogue to overtake No. 1 and wear the leader's yellow jersey at the Vans US Open of Surfing, the next event on Tour. But Conlogue struggled to find her footing. Meanwhile, opting for the second wave in the sets rolling in, Defay was able to put her vertical attack on full display, earning two nine-point-range scores on her way to the heat win.
Defay's efforts, however, were to be halted in the Semifinals by one of the event's most powerful performers, South African Bianca Buitendag, who posted two nine-point rides in her win over the Frenchwoman. Despite consistent performances for the last two seasons, Buitendag has never been in the conversation for a World Title. But now, after finishing runner-up for the second event in a row, she's jumped three rankings spots to World No. 6, and is scratching her way into Championship talk.
Amid the day's shakeup, however, one thing remains consistent: Fitzgibbons continues to battle like a champ. Competing with a head wrap over her busted eardrum, she posted two rides in the nine-point range during the Final. Visibly moved by her win, Fitzgibbons climbed aboard the ski for a victory lap with tears in her eyes.
"I'm so exhausted the tears came out," she said. "It's been such a big couple of days and quite a bit of pain. I just thought whatever the ocean is going to deal up to me I'll be happy with it. I just wanted to have a go and that was my motivation."
Moore and Conlogue still have command of the rankings, just 900 points apart. But with the rest of the Top 10 making moves, it's anyone's game when the Tour hits Surf City USA for the Vans US Open of Surfing. Tune in July 27 and watch the drama unfold LIVE on worldsurfleague.com and the WSL App.