The Final of the Cascais Woman's Pro was a powerhouse battle pitting the World Rankings leader Sally Fitzgibbons against the Title race frontrunner Stephanie Gilmore. Though Gilmore could no longer clinch the Championship in Portugal, a win at Cascais would see her overtake Fitzgibbons in the rankings and give her the yellow jersey for the final event in Maui.
Gilmore drew first blood, winning the opening exchange by a narrow margin. She won the second exchange with a midrange score for multiple forehand hacks, but Fitzgibbons fired back quickly, managing two closing maneuvers. Her efforts earned her a 7.17 and the first lead change with 20 minutes remaining.
But Gilmore answered in a big way. She raced down the line throwing powerful, vertical hacks to earn the first nine-point ride of the day -- the third of the event -- and force Fitzgibbons to hunt down a high score in the backend of the heat. Fitzgibbons found a wave and improved her two wave total, but it wasn't enough to overtake the heat leader. Gilmore won the event Title by a fraction of a point, and with it came the yellow jersey. It would be her first time at the front of the rankings pack all year.
Between them, Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore have won the last two events on the Women's World Championship Tour. The second Semi in Cascais was a rematch of their Final at the Vans US Open of Surfing, which Wright won.
Gilmore opened with an excellent score, attacking the lip with the same aggression that won her the Swatch Women's Pro Trestles where conditions were more refined. Gilmore scored a midrange backup that put Wright in a combination situation, a rarity for the Aussie charger.
But Wright fought back, scoring a 7.00 at the 10-minute mark. A crucial exchange unfolded with just under 5 minutes remaining, with both competitors getting the most out the small-scale waves with huge hacks and sweeping cutbacks. Wright got the bigger of the scores, but it wasn't enough to overtake Gilmore.
After waiting for the tide to ebb, Malia Manuel and Sally Fitzgibbons paddled out to a reinvigorated lineup. Fitzgibbons established an early lead, earning two excellent scores for taming the bumpy faces with precision and powerful carves. Manuel sped through a foamy right, going rail-to-rail but coming up just short of what she needed for a lead change.
In the second half of the heat, Manuel made a statement with a big score, throwing spray on fins-free maneuvers to keep herself in the heat. She went for an air with a minute remaining but the wind swept the board from under her feet, sabotaging her scoring potential. Fitzgibbons took the win, and was able to advance to the Semis.
"I was really happy to secure those big scores early because Malia's been in great form," Fitzgibbons said. "Picking those key moments and showing that big powerful turn at the start of the wave, it's good to be rewarded for that."
Lakey Peterson took the first wave of the heat, but Stephanie Gilmore's approach to the temperamental reefbreak paid off. Her wave selection and aggressive attack at the lip got her started with two solid scores.
Peterson stayed aggressive to improve her bottom line, pulling multiple cutbacks under the lip. But needing a high six-pointer, she faltered on a backhand layback and was narrowly eliminated.
"I probably made more mistakes than anything," Gilmore said. "I gave Lakey a couple opportunities. But the ocean flattened out -- I guess the third part of our team didn't work out."
The third Quarterfinal saw a sluggish start as the tide filled in and slowed things down. Going into the second half of the heat, Johanne Defay holding the lead over Tyler Wright with a 2.00 and only two scores had been tallied.
Wright picked up the pace with rail-to-rail work for a pair of midrange scores to overtake Defay and move into the lead. Defay found a two-maneuver ride but faltered on a difficult closeout section in a crucial exchange that saw Wright fine-tune her approach and extend her lead. With the advance into the Semifinals, Wright not only moved the needle on her own year-end points tally, but quashed any chances of Stephanie Gilmore winning the World Title in Portugal.
"All I really strive to do is my own thing and anything else is a bonus," Wright said. "I always thought [the Title] was going to Maui."
World No. 1 Sally Fitzgibbons was in form for the Quarterfinals, winning the opening exchange with a midrange score. Courtney Conlogue was hot on her heels, though, with an early excellent score for a combination of cutbacks on a long righthander. Conlogue worked her technical rail-game to avoid a combo situation but needed a nine-point ride going into the final 5 minutes.
Conlogue upped her bottom score and went for a go-for-broke rotation as the horn blasted but she came up short. Her loss saw her take equal-fifth finish.
"It's a different event after moving from each break," Fitzgibbons said, referring to the event's relocation at three different beaches this week. "You just have to patient and try to pick the good ones."
After an extended battle for position, Carissa Moore slipped in to a lefthander for a midrange score to kick off the Quarterfinals. But Malia Manuel had held out for a longer ride, winning the opening exchange of the heat. Manuel held the lead heading into the second half, with Moore still looking for a backup score.
The scoreline remained narrow throughout the remainder of the heat, with Moore needing only to improve her bottom score to a high three-pointer. But when she earned a 4.93 in the final minute, Manuel was on the next set wave and earned a 5.33 to win the heat. Moore's fifth place finish puts her out of the Title race.
"I got my feet in the wax and got some small scores and that helped when the tide came in and the lip was softer," Manuel said. "Carissa and I have had some great battles and she's gotten me a bunch of times so I'm glad I got over that hump."