"I truly believe Steph could win a dozen World Titles and I hope that she does, if that is what she wants," Kelly Slater said immediately after Stephanie Gilmore claimed her 7th World Title last year. "Today marks a huge feat, but not a surprising one. It just feels like things are right in the surf world when she is winning."
Gilmore's 2018 triumph equalled the record set by Layne Beachley and after her win she immediately committed herself to wanting another one. A historic 8th Title seems well within her grasp.
Although Lakey Peterson pushed her all the way to the final event in Maui, Gilmore eventually won by a substantial margin. She claimed three of the 10 CT events on offer and after securing the Yellow Jersey with a victory in Bells, she never let it go. Aided by a new coach in Jake Paterson, Gilmore also seemed to reignite her competitive fire that had dimmed since she claimed her 6th World Title in 2014.
"I just want it, I want it really bad. That's what changed," she said after her win in the Oi Rio Pro in Brazil. "Being on the biggest stage and competing, this never gets never old. I want to improve. I want do airs like Filipe. I want to get better."
With Gilmore's talent and strengthened competitive platform it would seem that destiny awaits.
And yet Gilmore's quest for the record breaking 8th Title has one rather large obstacle; the class of 2019. While it's true that in each year she won a World Title she defeated a clutch of world class performers, the current crop has a claim to contain the deepest and meanest field of rivals assembled in recent history.
Lakey Peterson, Steph's main rival last year, is only 24 and should come back better, stronger and more experienced after her first World Title campaign. "I'm not done, I think the hurt will drive me even more next year," Lakey said at the end of 2018. "I think I've broke down a lot of barriers for myself and proved that I can be in this position and going for a World Title at the end of the year."
Courtney Conlogue too was the solid surfer in the back half of 2019. The Californian claimed two events following an injury ravaged start to the year. If she can stay fit and continue that electric form, she surely will also push Gilmore all the way.
Carissa Moore knows a thing or two about wrestling World Titles from Gilmore and is coming into 2019 with plenty to prove. Moore fought back last year from a poor start to stamp her pedigree in the final events. She won at the Surf Ranch and at home in Maui, where she recorded the first, and last, women's 10-point ride of the year.
"I wasn't in the World Title race this year which stings, but that's how it is," Moore said afterwards before adding, "I'm hoping that will be different next year."
Lying in wait for Gilmore beneath those heavy hitters lie a mix of inspired veterans and merging talent. 3x World Title runner-up Sally Fitzgibbons has a new coach in Micro Hall and a burning desire to cap a stellar career with surfing's ultimate prize. The carrot of an Olympic spot in Tokyo in 2020 is another big driver for the self-confessed sports nut.
At the other of the spectrum, 17-year-old Caroline Marks will look to build on one of the most impressive rookie years in recent memory. She has been earmarked as a World Champion since she made her CT debut and now with experience at each venue, her ascension could continue faster than many people expected.
All these athletes are potential thorns in Steph's quest for history. To these we can add the improving Tatiana Weston-Webb and Johanne Defay, who both finished in the top five in 2018. Experienced competitors such Malia Manuel and Nikki Van Dijk round out a stacked top 10.
It shows just how much experience, desire and raw talent Gilmore will have to overcome to make history. If she does, a remarkable achievement will be even more remarkable.