This morning, in fun but small waves at Duranbah, women's surfing took another skip in a series of recent steps forward. Though only a few handfuls of spectators stood by in the blazing Monday morning sun, those present witnessed the talent and poise of women's surfing's next generation.
Sunday evening a rumor went around that the Roxy Pro might be green-lighted for Monday morning, despite the lack of swell and gusty northerly winds that typically flatten the waves in Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales. But competitors awoke on Monday to little or no wind and waist-to-head-high swell that was peaky if inconsistent.
Round One, consisting of six three-woman heats, hit the water at exactly 7:30 a.m., as contest officials wanted to get all they could from the momentary break from the bad winds and tapering swell. Kiwi rookie Paige Hareb made the best of a lackluster heat wave-wise, brushing aside Australian Tour vets Samantha Cornish and Jessi Miley-Dyer with ease.
Heat Two saw 18-year-old Alana Blanchard also dispatch her veteran competition, Amee Donohoe and Jacqueline Silva, the two women a decade the Hawaiian's senior. Like Hareb, Blanchard's vertical pocket surfing and ability to complete and link her turns consistently far outclassed the older girls she drew.
Stephanie Gilmore dominated Heat Three, which should be no surprise to anyone who's seen the 21-year-old local surf. One could imagine Gilmore easily making it into the money rounds of a men's four-star WQS, a statement not intended as a backhanded compliment to women's surfing but as a simple statement of fact.
Heat Four was certainly one of the best heats of women's professional surfing in recent memory, as Aussie rookie Sally Fitzgibbons and Brazilian Silvana Lima traded radical gouging turns, tailslides, and even a solid frontside air by Lima. But despite Lima's perfect 10 (kudos to the ASP judges for awarding her frontside ollie appropriately), Fitzgibbons was the epiphany of the morning. Sure, she qualified for the World Tour in record time in 2008, but typically the next flight of competition can take years to adjust to; however, the new class of Women's World Tour freshmen seem totally unintimidated surfing against their elders on the big stage. Long-time World Tour warrior Megan Abubo, who made the event when Layne Beachley withdrew, struggled to even get a score, but provided an interesting contrast between the new generation and the old.
"There has been a few upsets this morning," Fitzgibbons politely observed in an interview after her heat. "All the rookies are doing really well which is great to see. We are all around the same age."
Heat Five was a battle between two 25-year-old former World Champions Chelsea Hedges and Sofia Mulanovich, and 17-year-old Coco Ho, the daughter of Legendary Hawaiian surfer Michael Ho. Hedges surfed radically, with some gouging turns, and Ho fired back, seemingly unfazed by the fact that she had draw two former champs who technically should be in the peak of their careers. Hedges came out on top with Ho trailing just behind. Sadly, Mulanovich was hardly a factor.
By 11:00 a.m. the swell was dying, and although Bruna Schmitz, Melanie Bartels, and Rebecca Woods made it the closest heat of the day, after watching Fitzgibbons and Lima do battle, the excitement of the day was done, and inconsistent conditions prompted organizers to call off Round Two, which had been scheduled to run.
The remainder of the Roxy Pro can now finish in one full day of competition, and organizers are keeping their fingers crossed about a south swell that seems to be developing and is forecast to arrive on Thursday or Friday. If Monday's surfing was a hint of what's to come, and Roxy Pro organizers actually give the girls a full day of solid swell and some barrels on the Superbank, the Women's World Tour may just be the best show in town.
Roxy Pro Gold Coast Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Paige Hareb (NZL) 15.06, Samantha Cornish (AUS) 12.10, Jessi Miley-Dyer (AUS) 11.50
Heat 2: Alana Blanchard (HAW) 15.34, Amee Donohoe (AUS) 12.17, Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 9.56
Heat 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 14.17, Rosanne Hodge (ZAF) 12.03, Ashleigh Smith (AUS) 11.97
Heat 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 18.77, Silvana Lima (BRA) 18.67, Megan Abubo (HAW) 6.53
Heat 5: Chelsea Hedges (AUS) 14.60, Coco Ho (HAW) 14.26, Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 9.16
Heat 6: Bruna Schmitz (BRA) 15.00, Melanie Bartels (HAW) 14.34, Rebecca Woods (AUS) 14.23
Roxy Pro Gold Coast Round 2 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Sofia Mulanovich (PER), Jacqueline Silva (BRA), Ashleigh Smith (AUS)
Heat 2: Rebecca Woods (AUS), Jessi Miley Dyer (AUS), Megan Abubo (HAW)