Sport is defined by its greatest rivalries: Federer and Nadal, Navratilova and Evert, Nicklaus and Palmer, Ali and Frazier. These are just some of the great rivals that have transcended the sports of tennis, golf and boxing.
Surfing is no different. Throughout its history there have been epic duels between the greats that have helped pushed the sport into new territory -- Mark Richards and Cheyne Horan, Pam Burridge and Frieda Zamba, Tom Carroll and Tom Curren, and perhaps the greatest, Kelly Slater and Andy Irons. Just a few pairings that defined their eras and changed surfing forever.
As the Championship Tour shifts to Torquay, Victoria, for the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, another great surfing rivalry is heating back up. Fitzgibbons and Gilmore are now tied atop the Jeep Leaderboard at No. 1 heading into the waiting period for Stop No. 3. (The forecast is looking promising, with a good chance for a start early in the event window.)
The two have had many memorable showdowns over the years, including title battles back in 2010 and 2012. And while both slipped down the rankings last year this year things appear to be changing. Both have surged to the top of the Jeep Leaderboard with huge wins, and their old rivalry has been reignited in the process. Steph and Sally clashed in back-to-back Semifinals at the Roxy and Drug Aware Pros. In both cases, the winner went on to win the event.
Their relationship, however, isn't antagonistic. You wouldn't catch either Sally or Steph saying, "If we were twins in the belly of our Mama, I'd reach over and strangle [her]," as Frazier once said of Ali. They are both known as two of the kindest and smiliest people on the planet. Yet, while they have a deep friendship based on mutual respect, the competition in the water is as fierce as any seen in the history of surfing.
Sally Fitz, for example, sure hasn't forgotten that she finished runner-up to Steph for a World Titles both in 2010 and in 2012. Her one and only goal since coming on tour in 2009 has been to be World Champion. More often than not, it's been Gilmore who has thwarted her efforts.
The veterans, however, have come out supercharged in 2017, both determined to enjoy their surfing more and get back on top. Gilmore jumped to No. 1 spot after her huge Roxy Pro win, but Sally fired back at Margaret River.
The two old rivals are now tied atop the Jeep Leaderboard, sharing the No. 1 position for at least a few days as Bells gets underway.
You can watch live when the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach begins April 12-24, 2017.