Statements were made and the gauntlet was thrown down on the second day of the Surf Ranch Pro as the top seeded women took to the water.
With the pace set on opening day by Coco Ho, 16-year-old Caroline Marks was the first to make her presence known on day 2. Smashing her first left, she opened up with the day's first 8-point ride. But she wasn't done there. She backed it up on her first right with another 8-point score, momentarily vaulting her into the top spot in the ratings.
"I'm such a frother. I try to surf at least four hours a day," said Marks when she was done for the day. "Even when I'm competing I try to surf a lot just because it's so fun. But I didn't even surf a wave yesterday. I don't know if I've ever really done that. It was definitely a test. I was pretty nervous but I'm stoked it worked out."
Surfing in the same round as Marks, Carissa Moore quickly one upped her with the best overall performance of the contest, men or women. Her left featured a series of fluid, swooping turns and high-powered backhand hooks. Garnering an 8.70 from the judges, she immediately backed it up with an 8.90 on the right for a combined heat total of 17.60.
"When you're in the ocean you don't have this crowd and everyone in your space. It's just you and the elements. Here there's so much more spontaneity. You have that opportunity to perform and it's just about capitalizing on it," said an out-of-breath Moore.
With Moore and Marks taking over the top two spots in the Qualifying Round, the top three seeds, Stephanie Gilmore, Lakey Peterson and Tatiana Weston-Webb, got their crack at it during the final grouping of the morning. Peterson wasted absolutely no time. Getting busy on the left, she earned the event's first 9-point ride. Tallying a 9.23, she made her intentions at the Surf Ranch Pro clear. She backed it up with a 7-point right for a total score of 16.50 to knock Marks from second to third.
"We're winding down the year here and things are super close," noted Peterson. "Every heat feels like a World Title heat almost. I definitely think about that, but I'm just enjoying being in this position and learning from everything that's going on."
Not to be out done, World No. 1 Stephanie Gilmore answered right back. Locking into an incredible tube on her first right-hander, she put all her years of experience at Snapper Rocks to good use. Making micro adjustments to find a clean exit, the judges awarded her with a 9.23. She nailed a 7-point left on her second attempt to get a 16.26 heat score and climb into the fourth spot of the Qualifying Round.
"I'm happy to be in the top four," smiled Gilmore. "I think Caroline is really strong here, she could probably go on to win the event. It's really impressive to see how spicy she is. And Carissa is always so sharp here. Lakey always rises to the occasion every time. I always knew those girls would be right up there. Round 2 will be interesting to see who steps up."
With the conclusion of the first two preliminary rounds of women's surfing in the books, less than a point separates first from fourth. The top seeded men took over the Surf Ranch after the lunch break. With hot, glassy conditions, the afternoon is bound to be full of fireworks.