Two of surfing's fiercest competitors went into the women's Final of the Tweed Coast Pro. Neither of them were willing to yield.
After months of patiently waiting, Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore were once again exactly where they wanted to be: paired up against one another in a Final. That last time we saw this very same match-up was at the end of the 2019 Championship Tour season when they squared off against one another at the lululemon Maui Pro. And now, ten months later, hungrier than ever after all the time off and unprecedented change, there was just something that felt right about seeing these two throw down in a Final again.
They'd taken two different but equally affective tracks through this event. Gilmore was electric and elegant, while Wright tapped into a raw, powerful athleticism. But in the end it was Wright's relentless attack, every turn dialed up to eleven that came out on top.
The proven champions dominated the women's draw, but for the men, a new guard emerged. Using the event to herald their ascension, Ethan Ewing was one of the form surfers throughout the event, and in the Final he fittingly dropped the event's highest score, a 9.77 against South Africa's Matthew McGillivray.
Ewing knocked out in-form top seed Owen Wright to book his spot in the Semifinals. While McGillivray, a BASE-jumping CT rookie few had heard of just a few months ago, had to get past Jack Robinson to secure his spot in the final heat. Robinson himself had twice surfed past Championship Tour stalwart Julian Wilson on his way to the Semis.
Considering Wright and Wilson are 50-percent of the Australian men's Olympic team, it was no easy feat for Ewing and McGillivray to upset the Australian power balance at Cabarita.
By mid-morning on Finals day the wind had come up, putting some chop in the face that competitors had to negotiate. Macy Callaghan gave Gilmore a bit of a scare in the Semifinals, but the seven-time World Champion found the right wave in the twilight of the heat to secure a narrow victory and continue her run.
Tyler Wright started her heats quickly and was never in any danger during her Semi. She posted a 7.33 against Nikki Van Dijk in the opening minutes. The waves were difficult and lumpy, but she soon put together a second scoring wave as good as any ridden during this event for a 8.67, all before the first ten minutes of the heat were even through.
Meanwhile, by the Semis, Ewing's advance looked preordained, and he was justly rewarded with an 8.83 for one of the waves of the event in his heat against a savvy Connor O'Leary, while McGillivray overcame Mikey Wright with an 7.83 and a 5.53.
From the onset of Finals day it was clear that wave selection would become extremely important as fewer sets were hitting the bank and standing up, especially with the tide still full early on. But when the sets lined up Cabarita was still lined up and looking plenty rippable.
Gilmore cruised through the Quarters with a 16.17, and then Wright, hot on her heels, went even better with a 16.6, hooking with abandon, smacking where Gilmore had threaded a more subtle, deft line. Once Wright and Gilmore were done, we'd seen four excellent-range scores tallied within a 30-minute window.
And in the men's Final, the lead seesawed back and forth before Ewing slammed the door on McGillivray with an event best 18.60 heat score, accented by his near-perfect 9.77. With plenty of fuel still in his tank, Ewing clearly saved the best for last.
So what did we learn after the first stop of the Australian Grand Slam? A lot, actually. Icons like Wright and Gilmore are as potent and powerful as ever, while there's a whole crop of young, hyper-talented Aussies that are absolutely chomping at the bit to make a name for themselves. And after all this time on hold, everybody was more than happy to pull on the jersey once again and get after it.