"I set a goal to be in the Final 5 at the end of the year," Sally Fitzgibbons explained from the winner's circle of the Rip Curl Rottnest Search. "If you give yourself every opportunity, every now and then, the planets align and you can come out with the win."
And now, after 12 years on the Championship Tour, Fitzgibbons not only accomplished her goal of qualifying for the Rip Curl WSL Finals, but she has a clear path to the first World Title of her already celebrated career.
Surfing as good as ever, this year she won at Rottnest -- the 12th CT victory of her career -- won the ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador and waved the flag for Australia in surfing's Olympic debut. At 30 year's old, the veteran frother clearly hasn't lost a step.
In terms of winning her first Title, Fitzgibbons has obviously given it plenty of thought.
"It's got a good ring to it and I'd love to make it happen," she told the WSL before the start of the 2021 CT season. "To keep coming back with that next level and I do truly feel that I've got the surfing in there and now, I just have to meet the opportunity and away we go."
Away we go indeed. Fitzgibbons was remarkably steady all year long. After starting the season with a third-place finish in Hawaii, she relished the opportunity to stay home in Australia for four straight events.
"I feel I'm in a really good position to perform when our World Tour events come around because we're at home," she said. "Whether it's groms, juniors, or the QS we've grown up doing events at Merewether and Narrabeen."
Putting all that experience to good use, she came away from the Aussie leg with two Quarterfinal appearances and a win at Rottnest. Her only bobble came at the first stop in Newcastle, where she was forced to settle for a ninth after losing to Keely Andrew.
Back to back Semifinal appearances at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro and Corona Open Mexico solidified her spot in WSL Final 5. Fitzgibbons will now have a shot a surfing's ultimate validation, a World Title -- a feat that has forever eluded her as she finished runner-up to the Title three years in a row (2010, 2011 and 2012).
"I've set goals all year and am quietly going about them in my own manner," she says. "I believe it's possible if I do everything in my power."
Should Fitzgibbons make it to the Title Match against No. 1 seed Carissa Moore she'll be facing a lifelong nemesis. The two have battled for event wins and World Titles for over a decade, but this may be the pinnacle of their rivalry.
"All the work is done, I have to trust myself and trust my instincts," she says.
Fitzgibbons is four heat wins away from her long World Title, but after coming so close so many times, she knows all she can do is take it one wave at a time.
Rip Curl WSL Finals runs from September 9-17, 2021 in San Clemente, California. A historic, one-day, winner-take-all race for the 2021 World Title, don't miss a second of the action right here on WorldSurfLeague.com.