Bethany Hamilton is a model to role models.
The 26-year-old Hawaiian, who lost her arm in a shark attack when she was just 13, continues to shock the world with her refusal to give up on her pro surfing dream. She's already inspired millions, and there's no sign of that light dimming.
On Monday Hamilton opened the latest chapter of her remarkable story, eliminating World No. 1 Tyler Wright from competition at the Fiji Women's Pro. For Wright, who's won three of four events this season, it was just the second time in her career that she's lost as early as Round Two.
Hamilton pulled the feat off with a solid display of tube riding at Cloudbreak, backed by a flurry of ferocious carves. And she was just getting started.
In Round Three, she faced six-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore and seventh-ranked Johanne Defay. With waves and wind building, the trio got busy in a hurry, trading blows in what became the biggest slugfest of the day. All three looked sharp, too, but Hamilton's combination of frontside lip bashes and heel-side hooks kept Stephanie and Johanne at bay. She led almost the entire way and advanced directly to the quarterfinals with another stunning win.
Can we pause for a little perspective here?
Bethany Hamilton is surfing with one arm. Paddling through waves, to waves, and into waves is supposed to be impossible with a disadvantage like that. And pushing to your feet while dropping into hollow reef waves? Forget about it. It's really not possible. She just refuses to believe it. And her storybook determination makes her the embodiment of the world's best motivational speech.
The only person who may have been happier than Hamilton was Tyler Wright. "She's the greatest human probably ever," Wright said afterward, and she meant it. The two have traveled together as Rip Curl teammates and have become close friends.
Hamilton, for her part, feels the same way about Wright. "I'm pulling for her to win the world title this year," she said. "She's one of my favorite humans in the world."
Wright took her early loss in stride. "I wouldn't have done anything different," she says. "I surfed a great heat, and had opportunities to win, but came up short by .1" The smile on Wright's face should concern all those around her who might face her in a heat. She's very comfortable with where she is, and where she's going.
Meanwhile, Stephanie Gilmore, who suffered a Round Four loss to Nikki Van Dijk, seems more confused than ever by her inability to find some traction this year. To be clear, Gilmore is surfing as well as ever, but it's mental mistakes that are costing her again and again. That's a new twist for the six-time world champion, and one that will take some time to work through.
Courtney Conlogue, on the other hand, is in no need of mental flexing. She's rolling through the early rounds like a prizefighter, sticking and moving her way around the Cloudbreak lineup with some swagger to boot. For the second day in a row she earned the highest score of the day, and with Wright's loss and her win, she'll be reclaiming the rankings leader's yellow jersey.
Carissa Moore and Sally Fitzgibbons made a run at that high score though, putting on backhand clinics at Cloudbreak. Carissa is still hunting for her first finals appearance in Fiji and she'll have to go through Sally to get there. If they both survive their quarterfinal matches they'll meet up in the semis.
Laura Enever and Bianca Buitendag will round out the quarterfinalists. Enever nabbed the first Perfect 10 of the event during her Round Three heat. But even that wasn't enough to get her past Carissa Moore. They'll meet again in the quarterfinals in what is sure to be a speed-versus-power showdown. Buitendag, meanwhile, is the only other goofyfooter left besides Hamilton. They're on opposite sides of the draw, which may bode well for both of them if the waves keep pumping.
Fiji Women's Pro Quarterfinal Matches
Heat 1 Bethany Hamilton vs. Nikki Van Dijk
Heat 2 Courtney Conlogue vs. Johanne Defay
Heat 3 Carissa Moore vs. Laura Enever
Heat 4 Sally Fitzgibbons vs. Bianca Buitendag