After a narrow Round 1 victory in the Roxy Pro France, Stephanie Gilmore is now four heat wins away from winning a 7th World Title in Hossegor.
While that sounds simple enough, Lakey Peterson's performance in the heat after Gilmore's showed she is determined to play her part in this epic race.
"It's all about the rivalry and the drama," said Gilmore said after her victory. "I know we are not in the entertainment business, but we are trying to sell stories here and Lakey is pushing me all the way. I've won a bunch of World Titles, but you are only as good as your last one. I'm focusing on having fun, but you have to be fierce right now. There's a lot on the line."
Gilmore narrowly defeated Sage Erickson and Tahitian wildcard and World Junior Champion Vahine Fierro, in a low scoring but tense heat. In shifting, clean three-foot waves Gilmore had made a few mistakes early in the heat and needed a five-point ride towards the end to advance.
"I was frustrated, I had priority two times and messed up both opportunities, but I was able to snap out of it," explained Gilmore. "I knew that I didn't need a big score or priority to get it. I created some space and that meant I could create opportunities."
Gilmore moved away from her competitors and within minutes posted two scoring waves with her signature, crisp, fluid movements. The heat score of 11.36 wasn't huge, but its implications were.
It means she is now four heat wins away from winning the event and a seventh World Title. "It sounds like a simple equation; win the event, win the Title," laughed Gilmore, "but I try not to think about the scenarios too much. Every event I show up to I want to win. With this one though it's nice to know with that simple result, there's another massive opportunity that comes with it."
Gilmore's main obstacle in that regard remains Lakey Peterson. The Californian's heat total of 9.67 was just enough to defeat Courtney Conlogue and local hope Pauline Ado. Like Gilmore, Peterson held her nerve and looks determined to play her part in this fascinating two-horse race.
"Honestly, I wasn't too nervous," said Peterson. "I'm more focused on each heat and then later I can deal with any scenarios that unfold. However there's no denying there is relief in getting through that first heat. You move through to Round 3 and you can get your groove on. I can now feel out my boards, enjoy where we are and be ready for whatever comes my way."
Away from the Title race, the morning's standout performances came from Carissa Moore and Tatiana Weston-Webb. Despite the chilly morning air which meant most competitors wore their shoes and socks all the way to the water's edge, the Hawaiian-based surfers reveled in the offshore laced beachbreaks.
Weston-Webb's heat total of 14.63 was the highest of the Round, propelled by a lefthander that featured two blistering fins-free forehand snaps that netted an 8.83 - the day's best.
"When that wave popped up I was just looking forward to ripping it hard and having a good time," said Weston-Webb. "It's so playful out there and I love surfing waves like that."
Carissa Moore relied on her previous experience to dominate her heat against Coco Ho and Paige Hareb. A five-turn combo that earned a 7.50 rivaled Weston-Webb's as the wave of the day. The 3x World Champion has won the Roxy Pro France three times and, being out of the World Title race, surfed with a lethal mix of freedom and intent.
"I've come to France to really enjoy myself and just wanting to surf hard and put in a great performance," said Moore. "I'm a competitive person and I want to be in the World Title race, but I know I'm exactly where I should be in terms of getting back to that level. However France has been good to me. It's a place where I've had success. I'm here to add to that."
Check back on Friday October 5 for the call at 8:30 am CEST. And watch live on Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook.