After the closest World Title race in surfing history, the final day of the Target Maui Pro ended with the crowning of two champions: Carissa Moore (HAW) won the event and Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) won the 2014 World Title.
"Of course I was really bummed that I fell out of the Title race in Portugal," Moore said after her win, "but I came home for a month and relaxed and spent time with my family. I wanted to have fun at this last event. This morning I actually teared up because I felt it, I felt really good about this event. It was a tough year but I'm really happy to finish it off like this.
This was the hardest Title I've ever won. - Gilmore
â€œI'm more inspired than ever after surfing with all the girls this year. I have to give huge props to all girls, we've all pushed each other this year and I'm really excited to see the seasons beyond and what we're going to do.â€
After elimination at the hands of Courtney Conlogue (USA) in the Quarterfinals, Gilmore spent most of the day waiting to find out whether she'd win a sixth Title. Conlogue, who posted the only Perfect 10 of the competition, went wave-for-wave with Gilmore and won in the final minutes, with a 13.67 (out of a possible 20) to Gilmore's 13.03.
"That's what happens when you change the seedings around and get the yellow jersey," said Gilmore, who became World No. 1 after her event win in Portugal. "It mixes things up. It was tough and I'm super disappointed. I really didn't put on a performance that was World Title-worthy, but that's the way it goes."
With Gilmore out in the Quarters, the door was open for the two remaining Title contenders -- Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) and Tyler Wright (AUS) -- to take the Championship. All that was left for Gilmore to do was sit on the sidelines and watch the drama build.
She got some relief during the next Quarterfinals heat when Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) eliminated World No. 2 Fitzgibbons, ending her campaign for her first Championship. Fitzgibbons -- who has finished runner-up in the World Title race the past two years -- stayed active, taking five waves to Buitendag's two, but couldn't get the scores she needed.
"It was definitely a tough one for me, a real nail-biter in that Quarterfinal," Fitzgibbons said of her elimination from both competition and Title contention. "I just have to tell myself that I gave it everything." (Watch the full interview).
Heading into the Semifinals, the only women's Title contender left in the competition was Wright, who would meet reigning World Champion Carissa Moore (HAW) in a close Final. If Wright won the Final, she would push the World Title to a surf-off. But Moore, who was out of the race as World No. 4, was primed to play spoiler. Moore scored three nine-point rides during the course of the Target Pro, and her 9.73 in the dying minutes of the Final sealed the deal, sending her to the top of the podium -- and Gilmore to the Champion's trophy.
"That was probably the most emotional I've ever been watching someone else surf in my life,â€ Gilmore said. â€œI know how focused Tyler is and I was completely prepared for a surf-off. However, I also knew how incredibly capable Carissa is at virtually every venue. I feel like I had a year's worth of emotions packed into one heat. I won my first title here at Honolua Bay, but after my loss in the Quarterfinals, I was prepared for anything to happen. I'm really emotional right now.
â€œThe caliber of surfing on tour this season is the highest it has ever been. There are no easy heats. This was the hardest Title I've ever won."
While Wright didn't find a victory of her own, she was in form in the water, and out. "I was stoked for Carissa; when she got that nine I was clapping as well," Wright said in her post-heat interview. "I feel like I have it together a bit more than I use to. I'm really happy and comfortable with who I am and how I compete and I can't really ask more of myself."
Another Top 17 surfer found success on different front: Current World No. 8 Johanne Defay was named the 2014 Rookie of the Year. In company with surfers including Moore and Gilmore, Defay will officially be honored at the ASP Awards.