Monday at Margaret River saw the world's best women advance in conditions where experience mattered most.
Four of the Tour's perennial titans -- Carissa Moore, Sally Fitzgibbons, Courtney Conlogue and Tyler Wright -- all won their Round Three heats, for a direct leap to the Quarterfinals. In Round Four, some of the higher-seeded surfers again made their way through with one exception: Laura Enever shut down Malia Manuel by less than half of a point, continuing her most successful streak on the CT in almost a season.
The biggest drama of the day came in the final Round Four match between Sage Erickson and Stephanie Gilmore, who's had a rough go ever since her mind-bending performance on the Gold Coast a month ago. When Erickson jumped out to an early lead, and held it midway through the heat, doubts about Steph's comeback were starting to surface. The fear was her Round Two mega-performance on the Gold Coast was just a confluence of timing, stamina and a hometown stage.
But right about the time that doubt was creeping in, Steph turned the page at Margaret's, finding a clean righthander that allowed her to unload an incredible layback hack. The stunning move drew a collective "wooowwwww" from the broadcast team, and earned her an eight-pointer, her first of the heat. She followed with another stunner minutes later, sealing her spot in the Quarterfinals. As for other standout moments...
Carissa Moore won her Round Three superheat, but it was close for one of the first times this season. Erickson, who has not been known as a competitive powerhouse in years past, has a new mojo and it showed. She led the heat for most of the 35 minutes, until Moore took a final, crushing blow with her last wave. Buitendag also put the pressure on with her last wave of the heat, a whopping 9.40 that almost saw her defeat Moore -- almost.
The World Title has eluded Sally for too long (seven years, to be exact), and she looks determined to make a go of it this year. After her worst finish ever at the first event of the year, Fitzgibbons found her groove again at Bells with a runner-up run. And at Margaret's she is truly hitting her stride, dominating with a mix of signature vigor and strategic know-how that have her among the front of the pack.
Anyone who saw the footage of Laura at P-Pass last year knows she has more than enough mettle to take on the mortal-sized waves of the Championship Tour -- and probably wonders why she can't seem to make a significant dent on the rankings. Well here at Margaret's something is clicking for the Narabeen native. Laura has advanced to the Quarterfinals for the first time since May 2015 after taking out Malia Manuel with a gutsy come-from-behind victory.
With the Tour's heavyweights plowing through their heats and experienced surfers like Enever in the Quarterfinals mix, the faceoffs should be among the most intense so far this season. The matchups are as follows:
QF 1: Sally Fitzgibbons vs. Tatiana Weston-Webb
QF 2: Courtney Conlogue vs. Laura Enever
QF 3: Carissa Moore vs. Bianca Buitendag
QF 4: Tyler Wright vs. Stephanie Gilmore
Tune in for the next call at 7 a.m. Tuesday, April 12, local time.