On an epic Finals Day at the Corona Bali Protected, Stephanie Gilmore earned a perfect 10-point wave to take her 30th event win and the Jeep Leader jersey. On the men's side Kanoa Igarashi won his, and Japan's, first CT event. He defeated Ace Buchan, Kelly Slater and Jeremy Flores in flawless Keramas waves and rocketed into the World Title conversation.
"My first round was so terrible," Igarashi reflected. "I didn't catch any waves and I was just thinking what is the point of all of the hard work you do, all of the one percenters, all of the time in the gym, all of the time alone and surfing alone and now it all makes sense."
After traveling to Bali ten days before the event, Igarashi caught just one wave, that scored a paltry 1.77, in his first heat. Since then he gathered momentum in each Round, before turning in the best performances of his career to clinch the win.
His confidence was perhaps best illustrated by his first wave in his Semifinal with Kelly. He went for a giant high risk turn called a 'club sandwich' for reasons no one really understands. He didn't make the move, but the intent was there.
"From the first round to today, I surfed the same, but then I feel like in the Final I peaked and I did everything right," Igarashi said. "Sharing the Final with Jeremy [Flores] was an honor and that Semifinal with Kelly [Slater] was so good. Every heat gave me so much purpose to do my best and to now have my first CT win this early in my career means so much."
As this is Kanoa's fourth year on the CT and the fact he is both diligent and articulate, it is sometimes forgotten that he is just 21 years of age. In his time on the CT though he has been improving at both a steady, yet incredible, rate.
End of year finishes as World No. 20, World No. 17 and then World No. 10 last year show that his upward trajectory is nowhere near finished. His win today moves him up to second on the Jeep Leaderboard and he should now be considered a legitimate World Title threat for 2019 and beyond.
The same can also now be said for Stephanie Gilmore who capped a week of Keramas dominance with a perfect 10-point wave in her Final win over long time rival Sally Fitzgibbons.
"At the end of the Final I was thinking, ‘just get the excellent range' because I haven't really done that all event," said Gilmore. "Then I pulled the trigger on that one and just closed my eyes and held my line and then I came up -- it was so cool."
Gilmore had earlier defeated Nikki Van Dijk in the Semifinals, and her 30th CT career win, coupled with the early losses of front runners Caroline Marks, Malia Manuel and Carissa Moore, means the 7x World Champ has been catapulted to the top of the Jeep Leaderboard.
"I didn't know that it was possible for me to go to the top of the rankings so I'm so stoked with that," Gilmore said in her post heat interview. "I was wearing yellow this week and painted my nails yellow so I made my intentions pretty clear."
Gilmore's return to form after two Quarterfinal losses in Bells and Snapper looks ominous for her competitors. In Bali she seemed to click into another gear and her combination of rail work, tube riding and that X-factor style was a class above her opponents. She also rekindled the steel and the competitive drive that had come alive in 2018.
"I don't know what Margaret River is going to deliver, but I'll be going there to do my best," Gilmore said. "I just hope I can hold on to the Jeep Leader jersey all year. This feels amazing and I don't want it to stop."
Noteable and Quotable from Final's Day of the Corona Bali Protected:
Kelly Slater secured his best result of the 2019 season with a Semifinal finish at Keramas. "I'm stoked, and well done to Kanoa," Slater said. "He definitely wanted it and was pushing. I think where I went wrong was when I fell on that big barrel at the beginning and then sitting with priority for too long and I let him get his good one under priority, which is just the way it goes. We got lucky, the waves are perfect today and although we always knew this swell was coming it was down to the wind, which is still so light." The GOAT moved up to World No. 9, no small achievement considering he started the year as the World No. 34 and finished dead last on the Gold Coast.
Rookie Brisa Hennessy locked in her career-best finish, despite losing her Semifinal to Sally Fitzgibbons. "It's still pretty surreal for me," Hennessy said. "To surf out there with Sally at perfect Keramas was honestly a dream and I couldn't have wanted any other finish. It's just so special and I'm really grateful. I'm just taking it heat by heat and wave by wave and enjoying this moment. To be here surrounded by everyone I love and all of my idols, I have no words to describe it."
- John John Florence retained his Jeep Leader jersey for the Margaret River Pro after his closest rival, Filipe Toledo, failed to progress past Kelly Slater in their Quarterfinal. Caroline Marks however will hand over the jersey she has worn at Bells and Keramas to Steph Gilmore.