Courtney Conlogue had only one job to do in Cascais, Portugal: finish ahead of Tyler Wright.
But given this is Tyler Wright we're talking about, Courtney had to win the entire event to do it, which seems appropriate under the circumstances. Nobody is rolling over.
Tyler's large lead on the rankings is still intact, thanks to her four wins. But Courtney has kept her faint chances at a World Title alive. Wright may still be in pole position, but she'll have to wait.
Courtney came to Cascais as the defending event champion, and she played the part well this week. She was seeping confidence, and didn't falter throughout. Defeating Hawaiian Malia Manuel in her Quarterfinal, and a resurgent Coco Ho in the Semifinal, she raced into the Final with a steely determination to win. Perhaps that confidence was felt by Tyler Wright, who seemed unable to click into gear.
It might have also had something to do with their strategy, with Tyler sitting a few hundred meters down from Courtney, and the two women surfing their own contests without even seeing each other throughout.
Tyler was her usual strong self, with her low-slung power hacks and drawn out carves, but Courtney had been surfing with sheer abandonment, throwing huge turns and even getting a solid barrel in her Semifinal. Her strategy in the Final was the one that worked. "I figured just stick to what I know," said Courtney of the sand bank she chose to surf on. "I was happy with the consistency of the lineup."
It worked, with Courtney getting good waves off the bat, including a solid 8.17. She climbed into an early lead, and hung in there all the way until the end, while Tyler struggled to find any waves of consequence on the south bank for most of the heat.
"I'm so thrilled to be back on the podium," said Courtney on the beach. "Conditions kept changing, and I got a bit lost out there, but I'm stoked to win it."
Looking back, there were a whole lot of world title expectations when the women hit the water for their Quarterfinals in the morning. Large surf, bigger than yesterday with no jet ski assist, light to no-wind conditions, west swell, and lefts and rights just reeling all over the beach, it was a day of opportunity.
To get that World Title however, Wright needed to advance all the way through to the Final, and Courtney needed to get eliminated before the Semifinals. In other words, if Courtney won her Quarterfinal heat, the title race would go to France.
She won all right, scoring a 9.80 for the best wave of the day. Picking up a solid lefthander, Courtney cracked it on the outside before going for broke and launching over a massive shore-dump section, riding over the roof before plummeting down a mine shaft and emerging amid a shower of whitewater and a roar from the beach.
"I was thinking that this is like a make-or-break round, and I have nothing to lose and everything to gain so I might as well go for it," a visibly thrilled Conlogue said after the heat, knowing that the Title was going to the next event after that heat. "I just compressed, and used my legs as springs." That move, and that ride, is essentially what took the world title race away from the Cascais Women's Pro and on to the next event.
The noted difference between the two surfers -- Wright and Conlogue -- was their radical difference in mood and approach throughout the day. Tyler seemed somber, thoughtful, with a game-face in interviews and confidently telling everyone that she knew what had to be done to win. It was determination, and she wanted the win regardless of world titles.
Courtney, on the other hand, was light-hearted on camera. She laughed during post-heat interviews, enjoying the moment.
In the Final, Tyler stuck almost obstinately to her game plan, surfing the more inconsistent southern end, with her coach Glenn "Micro" Hall watching closely from the beach. It was almost painful to watch at first, as Tyler couldn't buy a wave out there, but toward the end of the heat she picked up some good ones and clawed her way back to a respectable finish. She was graceful in defeat.
"Looking it over I would have done it again," said Tyler of her game plan. "I'm stoked for Courtney. She's doing so well this year."
On the world title race now heading for France, Tyler was still upbeat.
"I have the same goal in France, and that is to win every heat and win the final. I'll take what I can from this event, and start all over again and do my thing," said Tyler.
"I'll have Glenn there, and he's doing great. This year I know exactly what I'm doing, and working with Glenn has been absolutely amazing for this reason. I've never been more psyched on surfing or doing heats. I've been on the tour for six years and I've never learned so much in my entire life." It doesn't hurt that she's defending champion in France, too.
Naturally, Courtney is looking forward to it too. "I still have a lot of work ahead of me," said Courtney. "I feel like I'm on a good path right now and I'll learn from my mistakes. I really love France, and I am looking forward to getting some barrels and doing some big turns."
Catch the Top 17 next at the Roxy Pro France. The contest runs October 4-15, alongside the Quiksilver Pro France, and will stream live daily on the WSL app and website, along with a replay.