"It's a pleasure to be back. I had an amazing year off, but I feel rejuvenated to take on the challenge of competition," Steph Gilmore said after dominating her first heat of the Maui Pro.
Fourteen years after the natural footer had won her first World Title in her rookie season, Gilmore looked both relaxed and focused. It's a seemingly contradictory state of mind, or approach to life, that has been the platform for her incredible success.
Or as she put it better last year, "We are all just bits of dust particles floating on earth so I've never been able to take things too seriously, but at the same time I do know how much it means to me."
On Maui, her great form continued until the Quarterfinals, where she was defeated by Tyler Wright. Then, as we all know, competition was suspended yet again due to the pandemic. While it has left all competitors in a state of limbo, no one was stalled on the precipice of history like Gilmore
"I would love to win eight. Eight's a great number," Steph told the Olympic Channel last year. "The Olympics would have taken the priority this year, and that's really what I wanted to focus on the most, but yeah, I think I've got plenty of juice in the tank and I'd love to be able to keep evolving."
An eighth World Title would make Gilmore the most decorated female surfer in WSL history. Since winning her seventh title in 2018 she has shared that accolade with Layne Beachley. In 2019 she finished as the World No.4, a disappointing result, albeit one sweetened by claiming the first Olympic qualification spot for the scheduled Tokyo Games.
However, when competition was canceled in 2020 Gilmore was unable to add to her incredible tally. In some sense, at the age of 32, any lost time might make her quest for GOATness even more difficult. Yet she only has to look to a certain Kelly Slater, who claimed his last World Title aged 39, to know that age is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Like Kelly she too has maintained her competitive intensity and thrived on each generation of talent that has come through the ranks.
"Those young girls are right there and they don't care how many titles you've got. Maybe they're inspired by you, but they actually want to smash you," she said at last year's Surfing Australia Awards. "So yeah, it's the greatest thing for any athlete to have that competition, that rivalry, that's really when you start achieving things in your career that you surprise yourself with."
Her performances in Maui showed that she retained the ability to surprise. And soon as competition no one will be fighting harder to make history.