Stephanie Gilmore really hasn't had much to celebrate this season. The 6x World Champion is winless in 2016. In fact, she has yet to even make a semifinal.
Since sitting out much of last year due to injury, Gilmore has yet to return to her top form. While she's delivered a number of absolutely brilliant performances during select heats this season, she's been short on consistency, which has cost her. This year, Steph has appeared vulnerable on the rankings -- at risk of falling off tour -- for the first time ever, which doesn't seem like Steph.
She's looking to change that at Lower Trestles. "I feel my best surfing is when I'm in a jersey," she said Wednesday after dominating her Round One heat at the Swatch Women's Pro. "I love feeling that pressure and having to rise to that occasion, and seeing whether or not I can do it. That's when you turn to find the best in yourself."
Gilmore bagged a pair of 8-point rides during her match against Johanne Defay and Keely Andrew, surfing clean and powerfully. Her 16.70 heat total was the highest score of the day.
Right behind her was reigning world champion and defending event champion Carissa Moore. Moore found herself in a tight battle with South African goofyfooter Bianca Buitendag during her match, but earned the nod with her power based approach.
Moore and Gilmore, the last two winners at Lower Trestles, are looking very dangerous yet again at Lowers. Meanwhile, tour frontrunners Tyler Wright and Courtney Conlogue suffered setbacks in their opening heats.
For the third time this season, Wright found herself in another tight match with wild card Bethany Hamilton. In Fiji, you may recall, Hamilton eliminated Wright during her dream run to the Semifinal. Today Hamilton jumped out to an early lead in Heat 3 of Round One, getting an edge on Wright and Nikki Van Dijk. But Van Dijk came firing back late in the game, and overtook Bethany with a few minutes to go.
With a minute to go, Hamilton got one last opportunity to close the gap on a clean left. Needing a 6.5 she opened strong with a couple of powerful carves on her forehand, but she wasn't able to close it out with a strong finishing move, and came up just shy of the win. While nobody is eliminated in Round One, it serves as a table-setter. Bethany's late push was inspiring. Wright's disappearance was concerning. She finished with an 8.43 total.
Conlogue, meanwhile, put up a bit more of a fight against rookie Chelsea Tuach and Aussie firebrand Laura Enever, but Enever proved too much to handle on this day. She stuck mostly to her backhand on the steeper Lowers' left, and showcased her vertical backside attack. Surfing with precision, speed, and flair, Enever seemed to be having the most fun on Wednesday.
Courtney will face rookie Chelsea Tuach in Round Two, while Wright will get another rematch with Hamilton. Neither can afford to overlook their opponent.
Malia Manuel rounded out the women's standouts on Wednesday. Hot off her finals appearance at the US Open of Surfing, Manuel appears confident, surfing with her usual healthy dose of speed. She got the better of Sally Fitzgibbons and Lakey Peterson in one of the tightest battles of the day.
Peterson will face a very in-form Sage Erickson in Round Two, and the two look evenly matched at Trestles. Meanwhile, Sally will face a tough fight with Coco Ho. Coco's father, Michael Ho, will be watching from the beach. He'll be good for a little advice, too. He won the very first pro contest at Lower Trestles back in 1977.
Catch more action at Trestles, starting with Dawn Patrol at 7:30 a.m./PDT, live on the WSL website and app.