Friday's Round Three at the Swatch Women's Pro should have been a far mellower affair than the high-stakes do-or-die battles of Round Two. After all, Friday's third round winners skip ahead to the Quarterfinals, while losers get another shot at life in Round Four.
But the quarterfinal carrot is a highly motivating force, one that unleashes the wilder side of the world's best. On Friday at Lower Trestles we witnessed a wide spectrum of performances. The most impressive came from current rankings leader Tyler Wright. The Aussie, you'll remember, came back from a shocker of a Round One loss to return to the lineup with competitive guns blazing. In Round Two, she took down Bethany Hamilton in something of a rematch from their Fiji battle (where it was Wright who went home).
Wright's Round Three approach was full tilt. She opened with an 8.50 and quickly followed with a 9.07, leaving Laura Enever and Sage Erickson in her wake. Enever put up a bit of a fight, but Sage never mustered a response.
Wright's extended pre-event stay in San Clemente is one likely reason why she was able to find waves others couldn't. "I've been surfing these type of conditions the last few weeks," she said afterward. "I love it."
Friday's other mind-blowing heat for the women was the final battle of the day, which pitted Stephanie Gilmore, Carissa Moore and rookie Keely Andrew against each other. At first, it seemed like Stephanie was repeating Tyler's untouchable performance two heats prior. She opened with a 9.10, which put her light years ahead of the field before anyone blinked.
But Moore, ever the gritty competitor, fought back and overtook the lead. And that's when things got exciting. Gilmore needs only a few more points to retake the lead. With under five minutes to go, the set she needed appeared. Steph leaned into her bottom turn, set her target, and raced toward it. She could taste the quarterfinals leaning into her hack, which started beautifully...but then it happened...she caught an edge during the follow through, overcorrected, and went down. Advantage, Carissa.
But -- ah, thank the surf gods -- this was just Round Three! A tense edition of it today, but with a safety net nonetheless. When Round Four kicks off, Gilmore will face World No. 2 Courtney Conlogue for what should be one of the most intense battles of the competition.
Other winners Friday included Nikki Van Dijk, who is due for a breakthrough, and Johanne Defay, who is proving to be incredibly versatile.
Tune in Saturday at 7:30 a.m./PDT for a likely Round Four start.