Six-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore took a step toward winning a seventh Title Thursday when she won the Rip Curl Women's Pro Bells Beach. She also became one of just a few surfers -- Mark Richards, Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning among them -- to ring the winner's bell an incredible fourth time.
The Australian, who finished No. 2 in the world in 2017, was clearly elated afterward. "This is incredible," she said. "I visualized so much this morning and yesterday. I could just feel myself winning that bell. It was such an emotional build-up. All the focus is on Mick [Fanning], I felt like I could just sneak in and get a little ding-ding [of the bell], no one would even care, so it took the pressure off."
Still, her win came down to .23 of a point in a nail-biter of a decision from the judging panel. In her Final against Kauai's Tatiana Weston-Webb, the women traded the lead back and forth, down to the very end, after Gilmore let Weston-Webb nab a last, potentially heat-turning wave, with under two minutes left.
"[After Tati's wave] I thought there would be a miracle wave behind it, because a minute 30 is still a long time," said Gilmore. "I saw it from behind, I saw her do a couple of floaters, and I thought, 'the judges don't really like floaters at Bells, and I knew a 6.8 was close to the big wave I had in the heat, so I was confident that I would get it."
Still, six Titles doesn't inure Gilmore from competitive nerves, nor admiration. "Tatiana has been on fire this whole event," she said. "All the goofyfooters, I couldn't believe it. Tatiana, you can tell, has found her confidence, and her strength. It's so impressive to see her step up. But stressful, too."
For Weston-Webb, the runner-up finish was an impressive turnaround after a challenging season start, and a rough go in 2017. She finished last year ranked No. 10 in the world, her lowest finish since joining the Tour in 2014. But she arrived on the Gold Coast last month with a new attitude, a new travel partner -- in her boyfriend, men's CT rookie Jesse Mendes -- and a new peace, perhaps, with herself. Leading up to Bells, she did one-on-one work with her coach, Leandro Dora, and the training clearly helped.
Heading into the Margaret River Pro -- the next event on the Tour -- Weston-Webb jumps to No. 5, while Gilmore is the new No. 1, and will wear the Jeep Leaders' yellow jersey. If she continues to perform with the renewed flames of focus and motivation that she did here, she might just be wearing yellow still at year's end.
"I love the yellow jersey," she said. "Hopefully I can hang on to it for a little bit longer than I did last year."