There was a full week of lay days at the women's Corona Open J-Bay before the action picked up again in round three, and luckily the wait was worth it.
The women arrived on site this morning in the dark, eagerly waiting for the sun to come up. When it did, perfect J-Bay lines stretched to the horizon and the day was completed in double-overhead conditions with the women seeing the best waves of the event.
Going into the event, Gilmore's style seemed to be the perfect pairing with the long walls on offer at J-Bay. She also declared her affection for the place as, "love at first sight." Known as the queen of style and flow on Tour, there were a lot of expectations placed on Steph especially as this was her first time surfing Supers.
But her performance on Friday wasn't all dominant.Gilmore struggled to find her rhythm during the first few heats of the day. In the Quarterfinals, the Australian narrowly made it past Bronte Macaulay. The two both earned a 15.00 heat total but because Gilmore earned the higher single-wave score, with an 8.00, she advanced.
"I think I was just stressing too much about everything," Gilmore said when asked about her slow start. "Everyone was telling me that this is my wave, this is my place. And then I saw Lakey smash it and get huge scores ... so I started thinking that maybe this isn't my wave."
Luckily for Gilmore, she clicked into gear right when she needed to. The six-time World Champ defeated an in-form Lakey Peterson in the Final, taking back the Jeep Leader Jersey. The Australian now has 45,575 points and Peterson with 43,430.
"It's been really fun to battle back and forth with Steph," said Peterson. "She's won most of the Final match-ups we've been in. I've gotta start winning some of these soon."
"It's nice to be a part of a rivalry again," said Gilmore. "Rivals are what make this sport exciting and beautiful. I get inspired by great rivals."
Although she fell short in the Final, Peterson showed up to surf today. The Californian got off to a quick start in her heats and was consistent throughout. During the second heat of the morning, Peterson earned a 9.00 to kick start her campaign.
She then went on to eliminate wildcard and local favorite Bianca Buitendag in the Semifinals. As much as the crowd wanted to see Buitendag advance, anyone would've been hard-pressed to argue against Peterson's win. The wildcard, although recovering from a back injury, shined throughout this event and eliminated Coco Ho in the Quarterfinals.
"It's so wonderful surfing as a wildcard," said Buitendag. "There's no pressure. I'm free."
Despite surfing four heats throughout the day, Peterson's stamina remained solid. From the early morning heats to the Final her energy never wavered.
"It's so good out there," she said. "It's so cool that the WSL waited for the swell for us. For the women to get waves like this in J-Bay it's everything we could've dreamed of. I went out really early this morning. It was kind of scary out there in the dark by yourself. But I just wanted to get a wave. We haven't seen it this big yet. I lost today but after surfing these waves all day, I don't see it that way."
Tatiana Weston-Webb was also a standout Friday. Her backhand went unmatched. The Brasilian surfer from Kauai earned the highest heat total of the event with a 18.54 (9.77 + 8.77) to defeat Sage Erickson in the Quarterfinals.
After a few lay days, which included safaris and bungee jumping, Weston-Webb had kicked into a new gear. But she was unable to find her footing in the Semifinals, going down to Stephanie Gilmore. Sitting at No. 3 on the Jeep Leaderboard, this Semifinal loss takes her further away from the World Title conversation.
"I'm proud of the way I surfed today," said Weston-Webb. "There's definitely things that I could've done to better my chances against Steph. You can't take any chances with her. But I'm learning and I've had an awesome crew here with me. I was really connecting with the wave in my earlier heats. Stress is the enemy."
The women's WSL Championship Tour will be heading to California next for the Vans US Open of Surfing July 30-August 5. Watch live daily on the Worldsurfleague.com and Facebook.