"It feels so good to be back in that winner's circle," said Sally Fitzgibbons right after her win at the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona. Fitzgibbons has been the best performing Aussie this season, which aside from her 9th place finish at Narrabeen has seen her feature on Finals Day in every other event.
The 30-year-old Australian has been on a constant Title chase since joining the Women's Championship Tour in 2009. Sitting at No. 2 in the world after the Australian leg, with four events to go she has all but secured a Final Five finish ahead of the Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles in September.
"I've set those goals all year and am quietly going about them in my own manner. I just believe it's possible if I do everything in my power, some days like this everything just aligns," said Fitzgibbons after the Final at Rottnest.
As part of Australia's Olympic Team, Fitzgibbons is no stranger to success. She's regarded as one of the hardest working athletes on tour and over the years has shown true grit demonstrated no more than by her victory at Cloudbreak in 2015 despite suffering a perforated eardrum.
However, her quest for the ultimate validation, a World Title, has eluded her, finishing runner up three years in a row - 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Ahead of the Australian leg, Fitzgibbons told the WSL she believed 2021 was different coming into the season having refined her approach after 12 seasons on the CT and surfing the best she has ever felt in her career.
"Yeah, I think it's totally doable. It's got a good ring to it and I'd love to make it happen. For me, it's a feeling you get when you show up to these events that you have the surfing in the tank that will get you there and that's the hard part."
The move to Sharp Eye surfboards ahead of the 2021 season has also paid off. She joined the ranks of competitors who have found much success on Brazil-born, San Diego-based shaper Marcio Zouvi who won this year's Stab in the Dark competition. Sharp Eye boards were under the feet of both women's Finalists at Rottnest Island, as well as for Filipe Toldeo at Margaret River.
Having been in the shadows of fellow Aussies, two-time World Champ Tyler Wright and seven-time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore for much of her career, Fitzgibbons knows it's time to strike with the pair currently ranked No. 4 and 5 in the world respectively.
Then there's four-time World Champ and current world No. 1 Carissa Moore who will be determined to put behind a less than perfect performance by her standards in Australia.
What's strikingly different about Fitzgibbons this season is her ability to sustain and eclipse standout performances throughout an event. At Rottnest, she threaded arguably the best tubes of the event in her Quarterfinal against Malia Manuel. She then followed it up with a 9-point ride in her Semifinal against Tyler Wright and dropped another excellent score in the Final against Johanne Defay.
That kind of consistency has seen her earn the second-highest average heat score behind Carissa Moore this season. Look at the past world champs before her and it's a formula that translates to a place atop of the podium time and time again.
"All the work is done and I have to trust myself and trust my instincts," revealed Fitzgibbons after her win that capped off a memorable Aussie leg.
Rottnest may have marked Fitzgibbons' 12th CT victory for her career but it's clear without a World Title she's not done yet.