It's time for the business end of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona, and with more swell on the way and a likely Finals Day set for Saturday (local time) there's still several World Champions chasing the win as well as the Yellow Leader's Jersey.
World Champions continue Their Charge
Justice isn't done to how shallow and powerful the shorebreak is on the broadcast - there would be real consequences to coming unstuck on it, which makes the way surfers such as Gabriel Medina float over a few inches of sand especially dramatic. Medina was among the World Champions in the field who continued their run on Day 4 of competition, putting their boards and bodies on the line in the process.
But it was Four-time World Champion Carissa Moore however who provided what was hands down the biggest moment of the day as she progressed, boosting a huge air-reverse in her Quarterfinal against Johanne Defay
"You have to keep reinventing yourself, when you're amongst a field like I am. The girls are so good, they're constantly pushing the boundaries and having a year off like we did last year, I think everyone went back to the drawing board," Moore said in her post heat.
She banked the highest single score of the event so far for this special air, a 9.9, which pushed her to the highest heat total as well at 17.33.
Also in that pack of proven winners progressing was 2015 World Champion Adriano de Souza, who knocked honorary local Julian Wilson out of the event. It might be his retirement year, but if he's proved anything during his career it's that you can never count him out.
Italo Boosts His Way Into The Quarterfinals
Carissa provided the most excitement, but 2019 World Champ Italo Ferreira provided an entrée, which at this point is hardly surprising. Even with the stiff offshore wind he was able to throw one of the biggest airs of the event so far, a big, lofty backside full rotation which helped him rack up two excellent rides on his way to the Quarterfinals, an 8.6 and an 8.3 for the second-highest total of the day at 16.93.
"I love the challenge, it makes me more excited," Ferreira said in his post-heat interview.
Watch This Space, There's New Leaders
By the time this event is done, it's now clear we'll have two new ratings leaders. Carissa Moore is set to take the Yellow Jersey back from Tyler Wright, and right now, Medina looks to be in the box seat to secure it from John John Florence, who was knocked out yesterday by Rookie Morgan Cibilic.
But that's not a done deal, with Italo Ferreira also still in the mix if Medina does not progress past the Semifinals, and he can then place second or better.
Rookies' Dream Run Remains Alive And Well
Morgan Cibilic has kept his dream run through this event alive, once again in commanding fashion.
Whether it's his familiarity with the wave, where he spent many of his formative years, or a boost of confidence after his big result earlier against John John Florence, he's on a roll and surfing the heats of his young career -- all with an injured foot.
His approach was rooted in surfing fundamentals -- some big, powerful turns in critical sections, rather than above-the-lip maneuvers -- but he's doing it with such flair and confidence that right now, he's the form surfer of the event.
"I'm just staying composed, I've got Jay "Bottle" Thompson my coach here and he's just helping me stay settled, and he was on the Tour so he kind of knows a bit, and when I qualified I kind of found a new headspace, so I was able to stay relaxed during my heats and focus on myself and not anyone else," Cibilic told the WSL after his heat.
Meanwhile, another local, Ryan Callinan, has also made it through to the Quarterfinals after a heat against Owen Wright. His best score, a 7.6, was for a series of three powerful backhand turns into the shorebreak in a match-up of two of the best Australian goofy-foots on Tour.
Now, in the semifinals, the two locals Cibilic and Callinan will be facing off against one another.
Isabella Nichols Surfing The Heats Of Her Young Career
But it was Isabella Nichols -- also in her first year on Tour -- who provided today's fairytale moment, taking out seven-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore, her childhood hero, in the quarters to book a spot in her first Championship Tour Semifinal. This is after she's earlier knocked Tatiana Weston-Webb out of the event.
Nichols found the better waves, sat right in the pocket and hit the lip with a confident display of power surfing which shows how much work she's put in during the unexpected extended offseason that was most of 2020.
"I'm pretty speechless at the moment, to be honest," Nichols said after the heat. "Steph is my idol, she always has been, always will be. She was the first person I looked up to and I still do. Having a heat against her was pretty surreal."
Here Comes Finals Day
Now that we're moving into Finals Day when the event next runs, there's no shortage of exciting heats. The two locals heroes will be surfing against one another, which means no matter what Merewether will have someone in the Semifinals. But it also means heartbreak for someone.
Meanwhile, there's some other firecracker Men's Quarterfinal, with two of Brazil's biggest stars in Medina and De Souza matched up, while Ferreira has Deivid Silva. Then the two US Olympic women's teammates, Moore and Caroline Marks will be meeting in the Semis... stay tuned.