The Queens of Honolua

Carissa Moore wins the event, and Steph Gilmore claims the World Title

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Carissa Moore took down Tyler Wright to win the Target Maui Pro. Photo: ASP

While most of the country was wading through the depths of Thanksgiving, the women’s World Tour was busy crowning a new world champion at Honolua in the form of Steph Gilmore and an event champion with Carissa Moore.

Heading into the final day of competition on the Valley Isle, Steph Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons and Tyler Wright all found themselves in contention for a world title as the women’s tour reconnected with the perfect walls of Honolua. And while the surf touched on idyllic, the road to the title was wrought with drama. For a world champion to be crowned, a myriad of possibilities had to unfold. The simplest trek to the title decision would have been for reigning world champ Steph Gilmore to have won the event outright, but simple outcomes clearly weren’t in the playing cards today.

In her quarterfinal heat, Gilmore, who came into the comp as the ratings leader and from all accounts was surfing on a higher plane, found herself staring down California’s Courtney Conlogue. Most pundits expected Gilmore to wax Conlogue, but that was hardly the case. Conlogue, who was able to line up a slew of well-surfed waves from the outside section all the way to the inside peak, narrowly took down Steph. From this point on, her world title hopes were outside of her control. She was still in the race, but both Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons had to fall by the wayside in the process.

Following her loss, Steph spent nearly 20 minutes in the lineup, realizing the opportunity that had just slipped through her hands. “I was thinking of paddling to Molokai. There were some tears and a lot of emotion,” Steph said. “I just had to took a few breaths to get my composure…it’s been a long year.”

With the door now open for a world title shakeup, the pressure was on for Sally Fitzgibbons to produce a major result in her quarterfinal heat against Bianca Buitendag. Needing to dominate to stay in the hunt for the title, the tension was palpable. But the building pressure and a very sharp Bianca Buitendag proved to be too much for Sally. She would narrowly bow out of the comp, her world title hopes once again unrealized.

Where Fitzgibbons would falter, Tyler Wright would find her footing, besting Lakey Peterson in the quarters and Bianca Buitendag in the semis, eventually meeting Carissa Moore in the final. And that’s when things got really interesting: If Tyler were to win the event, the world title would have to be decided by a surf-off. Yep, that exists. And here’s how it would have worked: the two surfers in contention would surf up to three 30-minute heats, the winner decided by the best 2/3.

And while the prospective of a surf-off hung in the air, for it to happen, Tyler Wright would have to get through Carissa Moore. In the final, Moore put on one of the most dominating performances of the contest, dropping an 8.5 and 9.73. Time and again Tyler would attempt to counter, but after surfing a litany of make-or-break heats today, Moore would prove to be too formidable of an opponent. The event win would go to Carissa, and the world title to Steph.

“I’m really happy. It’s been a tough year but it feels so good to take the win in front of my whole family here in Hawaii. I’m so stoked. I’m so happy for Steph too,” said Carissa following her win. “This victory makes having to give the world title trophy over to Steph a little easier.”

From the bluff, Steph eagerly counted down the end of the final. When the closing horn sounded, Steph’s camp erupted in applause. She’d just won her sixth world title. “I was so nervous watching that final. It’s been the craziest couple of hours. I was mentally preparing for a surf-off, but Carissa is a world champion and it was a great heat to watch,” said Steph through joyful tears. “This has been an unreal day.”