To say it's been an exciting year in women's pro surfing is an understatement. Try thrilling. Awe-inspiring. From the first female winning Barrel of the Year Award to Tyler Wright's title-domination, 2016 has seen its fair share of mega moments. Here's a handful that particularly got the surf world talking.
Steph's Heat Heard Around the World
6X WSL women's World Champion Steph Gilmore was injured for most of 2015. And coming back into her very first CT heat of the year on the Gold Coast in Round One, she looked a little shaky. Then came Round Two against Coco Ho, and the gloves came off. In perhaps one of the most astounding and gorgeously surfed heats in women's pro surfing history, Steph tore the bottom out of Snapper's rifling righthanders, building a near perfect 19.77 heat total, dropping 9.9's and 9.87's, absolutely stunning the surfers watching on the sidelines.
Tyler and Owen Wright's Foreshadowing Hug
It was Tyler Wright's first win of the season (which would be one of five) and the woman looked like she was on a mission to duke it out the whole nine-yards through Maui. Aggressive, confident and surfing a notch above the rest, it was here that Tyler set the tone. Meanwhile, however, her brother Owen Wright (a phenomenal mens CT competitor) had to sit this season out, due to a rare illness. At that time, unsure if he'd be up for surfing another CT season, perhaps Tyler's drive gave her brother some hope, too. We'd like to think so, and regardless, it was a special sibling moment.
Keala Kennelly Wins Barrel of the Year
The wave was frightening. Massive, deadly Teahupo'o, Tahiti. And, yep, Keala Kennelly was on it. Not on the shoulder, not outrunning the lip, but deep inside a monstrous code-red-sized cavern. A truly milestone moment for women's pro surfing, Keala won the Pure Scot Barrel of the Year Award at the WSL Big Wave Awards, outclassing dudes like Greg Long, Ian Walsh and Mark Matthews for the win…and an over-sized 10K check.
Wildcard Bethany Hamilton Crushes it at Fiji Pro
It's not like Kauai's Bethany Hamilton hasn't already proven over the last decade that she can still compete at the CT level despite her setbacks. But these days, everyone's gotten significantly better. Earning the wildcard in the Women's Fiji Pro this year, Bethany showed the world again how talented she was, beating the now-World Champ Tyler Wright in Round Two to advance all the way to the Semis in firing Cloudbreak. A story that made the Today Show and huge news channels the world-over.
The woman finished runner-up this year, but certainly not without a fight. Indeed, the entire year, Courtney Conlogue and Tyler Wright traded 1st's and 2nd's in events, Courtney surfing her finest year on tour to date. Making her final push in Portugal (before Tyler sealed the deal in France), Courtney proved she would not roll over, winning the event, heading to France shortly after guns blazing, determined to shut Wright down.
Tyler Wright Wins World Title
Sportscasters have a term for Wright's performance in the first event of the year (that she won) and it's called "setting the tone." Which is precisely what Tyler Wright did at the Roxy Pro. She continued that tone through four more events this season, winning the title in France before the year was finished. Her first of probably multiple World Title-wins, there was no doubt among anyone that Wright had what it takes to last the whole year on top -- it was only a matter of when.
Sabre Norris Captivates Ellen (and World)
Precocious, charismatic, absolutely adorable, call her what you will: Sabre Norris is a star. Daughter of an Australian (medaling) Olympic swimmer, 11-year-old Sabre Norris rips on a surfboard as well as a skateboard, too, and even more impressive, she plain kills it at interviews. Being the youngest surfer to compete in a professional event (Sydney Pro QS), she was interviewed by Australian morning shows and hammed it up on screen, going on about spending her earnings on donuts. Then, of course, she got on the Ellen Show and went viral.
Paige Alms' Monumental Jaws Win
Not like she hasn't put in hundreds of hours already at the big wave break near her home in Maui, but Jaws is intimidating to visiting experts and locals alike. And the surf at this year's Pe'ahi Challenge was proper no matter what gender. Big for a girl, big for a guy. But Paige stepped it up in front of a world watching and proved women will paddle into bombs, taking the win and a page out of history in the process.
Laura Enever Charges at Pe'ahi Women's Challenge
Over the years there's been a couple athletes that have gone from CT competitor to "big-wave surfer." People like Shane Dorian, Taylor Knox, Damien Hobgood, even Josh Kerr lately. CT warrior Laura Enever is now joining the list, when she stepped it up at the Pe'ahi Challenge and took some beatings, too, bridging the gap between talented competitor and big wave charger.