If there was any doubt about pro surfing's new world order, the rolling heads today at Snapper Rocks rightly put those to bed. On a sun-splashed day that was filled with promise, it was some of the Tour's unsung and emerging heroes who stepped into the spotlight Monday at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast.
The morning began with Rounds 2 and 3, which thinned the field considerably. But it was when the Quarterfinals came around that the neoprene really met the road. After four heats and a little more than two hours, only one of the Championship Tour's (CT) top four women were still left in the contest -- and no, it wasn't one of the World Champs.
First, it was Lakey Peterson who broke out the fiberglass guillotine. In any other year, the outcome of her Quarterfinal heat against 2x, reigning World Champion Tyler Wright might have been preordained. Wright's intensive training regime under coach Glenn "Micro" Hall has been the talk of the surf town and her two, back-to-back World Titles speak for themselves. But barely 48 hours in to the 2018 CT season, it's clear that this year won't be like any other.
Instead of buckling and having to buck up for her post-heat interview, Peterson was the one returning to the beach triumphant. "It's crazy -- it's only two days into the season and I'm into the Semis," she said afterward. "I couldn't hold back. There was nothing I could do to change [Wright's] surfing, so I just focused on mine and it worked out in the end."
That focus may prove to be key to the Californian's statement of a season start. In an interview before the Roxy Pro got going, she had a notable new energy, and made it clear that she wants a World Title just as much as the women who keep winning them. Peterson also had an offseason for the ages: Not only was she working closely with her own coach, Mike "Snips" Parsons, doing big-wave trips, practice heats, and aggressive physical training, but she also got engaged to her longtime boyfriend. With a winter break like that, who needs heat strategy? Oh, wait.....
And Peterson wasn't alone. Next up it was Malia Manuel who took a little kerosene and a match to the surf establishment. Like Peterson, the Kauaian is a veteran of the CT and an able, if inconsistent, performer. Manuel, too, has had flashes of brilliance mixed with frustrating setbacks -- such as her knee injury last year -- but hasn't been able to break into the Top 5 since 2014.
This year, however, is already different. Facing fellow Hawaiian Carissa Moore, the newly married 3x World Champ, Manuel was on fire, scoring an 8.50 and 7.33 for the win. Afterward, she was more aware of the significance of her coup than anyone. "I've met Carissa in the Quarters a couple of times here in the past and she's beaten me every single time," Manuel said. "This will be my first Semi at Snapper and it's a great start to the year for me."
Next up was the only heat in which a Tour titan made it through -- and yet, just barely. The third Quarter pitted much-hyped Florida rookie Caroline Marks against current World No. 3 Sally Fitzgibbons who, after just missing the World Title again last year, arrived at Snapper energized and ready to rumble. Marks, though, gave the Australian a run for her Tour money, taking the lead at one point and fighting to the end.
And while no, Marks did not manage to eliminate her Gold Coast goliath, the 16-year-old íngenue was -- wait for it -- more upbeat than ever. "I'm over the moon," she said afterward, practically radiating stoke (in the purest sense of the word). "I don't think anybody wants to lose to a rookie, let's be honest. And for me, I'm in a different position, because I have nothing to lose. But [the other women] all expected to beat me. That's the cool part, I have no pressure."
Before the salt-water beheadings were all over, though, there was one final slash of the new-school sword to go. That one, in a bittersweet and nail-biter of a heat, was reserved for the Queen of Snapper herself, 6x World Champ Stephanie Gilmore, at the hands of her fellow Australian, Keely Andrew. Theirs was an unusual 35-minute heat, in which Andrew surfed six waves to Gilmore's one, until the eleventh hour.
As the minutes ticked down, it looked like Andrew was going to win when Gilmore caught a set wave, to the delight of her fans on the beach. But she fell on a bit floater and appeared to be heading in, while Andrew raced to find another wave. But just as the closing horn went off, Gilmore was back in the lineup and caught a last wave, leaving both women -- and the crowd -- to wait anxiously as the final scores were tallied.
It's probably obvious how this one ended. Seemingly still shell-shocked and dripping wet after her win, Andrew made her way to the post-heat area in a daze. "I made a few mistakes out there, I fell on a couple of waves," she said. "But fortunately, there weren't many waves after that, so it worked out in my favor."
Her nerves, however, couldn't suppress the ambition that's been brewing since her first season, in 2016. "I want to do better in each event than I did last year, and I've already done that here," she said. "I'm in it to win it."
On a day that sent shockwaves through the upper echelon of competitive surfing, however, it was someone who lost their heat who might have been beaming the brightest. Despite her Quarterfinal loss, Caroline Marks, the rookie, is already hungry for more waves.
"I definitely want to surf everyday, and hopefully get barreled at Kirra," she said, of her plans for the week. "This is my fourth contest this year, it's actually gonna be nice to get some downtime. But I love competing a lot, and Bells is just a few weeks away. I'm stoked."
Watch the Semifinals when the Roxy Pro Gold Coast kicks off again live on the WSL and Facebook. The next call is Tuesday at 6:30 am. local time.