Malia Manuel had Stephanie Gilmore was on the ropes Thursday. The Hawaiian, who's been surfing incredibly well of late, opened strong at Winkipop, bagging two strong rides before Steph had even gotten to her feet.
The weight of the match was immediately felt. After a quarterfinal loss on the Gold Coast, Gilmore simply couldn't afford a Round Four loss at the Rip Curl Pro if she wants her 7th world title in 2016. Meanwhile, Manuel is trying to get her confidence with where her surfing is, and for the first 26 minutes it was working.
Then Stephanie Gilmore got busy, and when she has room to move at a glassy point like Winkipop her blend of grace and power is something to behold. She got her first scoring ride with nine minutes remaining. Her second came with just five left on the clock. But Steph's carves were next level, and matched with her speed and style the judges couldn't deny her.
Things won't get any easier for Gilmore. She'll face Carissa Moore in the quarterfinals in what will undeniably be one of the most anticipated matches of the year, especially with the way the forecast looks.
Tyler Wright also needed everything she had to get through Round Four. Like Gilmore, she was behind for the vast majority of her heat with Nikki Van Dijk, the CT surfer from Victoria. Van Dijk was making all the right moves, and surfing great. But Tyler lucked into a large set during their last exchange with 3 minutes to go, and let loose with her textbook power. She needed a 7.5 to win, and got a 7.6 that was well deserved.
Wright will face Courtney Conlogue in the quarterfinals.
Alessa Quizon advances to the quarterfinals for the first time at Bells, defeating Bianca Buitendag in a match that was a contrast in styles. Quizon's compact and rapid-fire approach vs. Buitendag's larger swoops. It was a close battle that kept the judges on their toes but in the end, Quizon's flurry of lip jabs proved too much.
Quizon will have her hands full with Sally Fitzgibbons in the quarterfinals.
The judges got a well-deserved break during final heat of the day, as Tatiana Weston-Webb made it easy on them by opening her heat against Bronte Macaulay with the highest score of the day, a 9.6, and never looked back.
Tatiana will be up against Johanne Defay in the quarterfinals.
There are 8 Bells titles in the top bracket, and zero in the bottom. There are also 9 world titles up there, all in heat two alone (Steph vs. Carissa). On paper, the scenario plays into Tyler Wright's hands, as she's wearing the yellow jersey and in the bottom half. But if today proved anything, it's that nothing will come easy to anyone.