Coco Ho earned the highest heat total of the day with a 15.23 (8.00 + 7.23) to overthrow one of her biggest inspirations -- Jeep Leader Stephanie Gilmore -- and local trials winner Mia McCarthy on the opening day of the Margaret River Pro.
With sunny skies and strong offshore winds catching the four foot swell, Contest Director Keiren Perrow had no hesitation in pulling the trigger and starting the event. By the end of the day 16 heats were surfed and both Seeding Rounds of the Men's and Women's were completed. And despite a highlight reel that included heat winners Jordy Smith, Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo, Carissa Moore and Italo Ferreira, it was the veteran Ho who logged the only total heat score above 15 points.
"I'm staying with Steph [Gilmore] right now and when we saw that we were up against each other in the heat draw, we laughed," said Ho. "That's always the jinx when you stay with someone. But if anything, she's the best thing for me. She's been inspiration for me since day 1."
Instead of being daunted by Gilmore's awesome record and recent form, the Hawaiian instead used her yellow jersey wearing roomie as a tool to bring out the best in herself.
"Yesterday at the Rising Tides event, there were so many little girls there admiring Steph," continued Ho. "It's just so crazy to me that both their generation and my generation admires her. I'm just lucky to call her a friend."
2019 marks Coco Ho's eleventh consecutive year on the CT and yet despite being one of the most recognized names in surfing, her performances in 2019 have largely gone under the radar. There have been no breakout performances or the associated headlines that comes with one. Even in our Olympic catchup piece yesterday Ho wasn't mentioned as a candidate in the race for the two Olympic spots open to Team USA. Yet after today's effort, she may have changed that calculation.
The performance from the 28-year-old showed that she has lost none of the spark or class that has seen her perform at the highest level for over a decade. With the powerful Margaret River swells reminding her of the waves she grew up surfing in Hawaii, Ho dominated the 7x World Champion and the loca trials winner McCarthy.
"I'm used to surfing Haleiwa and we get these winds all the time," Ho said. "So I feel comfortable here. I like riding a bigger board. It's just about wave selection and positioning -- like everywhere in the world."
Now one heat win clearly doesn't change a season, but in a day of professional surfing that involved every surfer on both the Men's and Women's CT, it was Ho's performance that stood out. She may have been inspired by Gilmore, but the opening day of the Margaret River Pro belonged to Ho.
Notable and Quotable From Day 1 of the Margaret River Pro:
-John Florence won his heat and with the help of Jadson Andre relegated Kelly Slater to the Elimination Round. "I'm just so happy to be back here," Florence said of the wave where many think he set the performance benchmark with his win in 2017. "There's just so many waves here it's amazing, the water is so clean and it's just kind of pristine everywhere you go. Kelly had such a great performance in Keramas so it's great to see him back, but it was also a little nerve-racking because he's been so in form."
-Jordy Smith bounced back after an early loss in the Corona Bali Protected with the highest heat total of the Men's Seeding Round. "The loss in Keramas really hurt. But you can't let the hair in the salad spoil the salad," laughed the South African. "You have to keep fighting. I couldn't wait to get this event going, but it's a long year so you have to pace yourself."