The best 10-point ride of the 2019 Championship Tour happened almost exactly a year ago. Almost exactly, plus a few weeks, that is. At the Corona Bali Protected, during the women's final, Steph Gilmore rode the best wave of the year and made it look so easy.
At its best, Keramas is a skate park of a wave. It's rampy, dreamlike, glowing cat-eye green. The wave looks like good, innocent fun, until you notice the insanely shallow closeout section.
The match-up for the final heat of the Corona Protected Bali Pro looked set to showcase an intriguing contrast in styles. Sally Fitzgibbons is animated and athletic. Gilmore is understated, relaxed, and effortless. On a canvas such as Keramas, Gilmore is at her best, but punchy reef offered plenty of space for Fitzgibbons to play.
As it unfolded, the heat proved unexpectedly one-sided. Gilmore came out strong. Her first wave added up three clean turns for a 6.83. A cheeky barrel to cutback gave Gilmore a 6.17 follow-up. With that, Gilmore held a comfortable, but by no means insurmountable lead.
Fitzgibbons never looked to find her rhythm in the heat. While Gilmore quickly put up two solid scores, Fitzgibbons only managed a 5.50 and a 1.50. In search of a 7.50, Fitzgibbons very clearly wanted a barrel. But over and over again, she couldn't make it happen. The score she needed hung, tantalizing her, just out of reach.
Gilmore's wave of the year came with just over three minutes left. A crisp overhead set rolled in, and with priority, Gilmore paddled easily into the first wave. As the wave hit the reef, it stood up beautifully.
Let's watch it again.
At first, Gilmore's approach is almost casual as she skims down the face. A smooth bottom turn sets up Gilmore's first turn, a jazzy little hook tucked tightly under the lip. The turn is solid, but there's so much more on the way.
Gilmore unrolls another graceful bottom turn and it looks as though she is setting up another turn off the top. Not so fast. Instead, Gilmore dances through a midface check turn. It's a truly stylish and seamless transition that perfectly combines aesthetics and function. The turn slows Gilmore down just enough for the wave to catch up.
The wave rifles across the reef and Gilmore disappears deep in the barrel. There's enough time to wonder if she's going to make it out. A sorceress, she reappears.
Part of the joy of Gilmore's surfing happens in those brief moments between her turns. This time, there's a quick, blink-and-you'll-miss-it, soul arch as she exits the barrel. So cheeky, so fun.
If that were all there was to it, the wave would already be a high score. But Gilmore isn't done yet. She still has one more card to play.
Full speed, Gilmore screams down the line straight into the close-out section. The live angle hints at how hard she hits it, but wait for the replay. Watch the daylight open up, as Gilmore bashes the lip, air drops, and rides it out. It's a gutsy, all-in finish over a shallow reef.
At its best, style looks effortless. Surfing's cruel that way. The harder we try to have good style, the less often we actually achieve it. As soon as the effort shows, even that little bit, the magic disappears.
Gilmore wears an invisibility cloak. She's spent years in the water perfecting those turns and learning to see what the wave will do long before it actually happens. But in the moment, none of that work shows.
It's all easy like a Sunday morning, one turn unfolding seamlessly after another, the barrel right where she wants it, all of the elements lined up, like they were meant to be. Gilmore surfs like we all wish we could.