We got to the bay in the morning and it was dead flat - not much larger than one foot, and Contest Director Dino Andino was pacing back and forth looking really stressed out. The window for swell was closing quickly and nothing was projected on the horizon. The tension was thick but Dino made a ballsy call to run the competition.
They ran the first heat, and it was really slow, but it kept getting better as the day wore on - so kudos to Dino for his gutsy decision.
The first main heat to go down was between Sofia Mulanovich and Keala Kennely. Keala entered the event as a wildcard. She hadn't been surfing on tour all year long, was surfing on her back hand, and the whole beach thought there was no way she could take down Sofia. Then, right off the bat, Keala got a bomb backside barrel and finished it off with a big turn and floater. Her first wave set the tone for the heat. She got a few more good scores after her hot start, and Sofia just couldn't find the waves she needed to win. Keala even got the highest score of the day with a 9.9, proving she's still got the goods. The heat turned a bit emotional as Sofia shed a few tears because the loss ended her 2007 World Title campaign.
Keala seemed a bit bummed about the whole ordeal as she didn’t want to be a “dream-killer.” Kennelly acknowledged she had been in the same position before and regretting dashing a competitor like Sofia's hopes. “It was a shame that's how it had to go down,” Keala said.
After that, the surf really started to pump - and the marquee read Steph Gilmore vs. Rochelle Ballard. Rochelle was one of the two remaining title contenders. When the horn sounded, Steph started out with a beautiful little barrel and solid, stylish turns; they were Parko-esque. Rochelle came back and got a few good ones, but Steph continued her solid surfing, and that's all she wrote.
The only thing left hanging in the balance at that point was the Silvana Lima factor. Lima had Roseanne Hodge in her heat, and though the waves slowed a little with the tide, Silvana appeared determined as ever to claim a world title – or at least keep the race going. She paced the Competitors’ Area like a possessed Brazilian. Silvana lead the heat through its entirety, but Hodge patiently waited out the back for a big score and she got it in the closing minutes.
That sealed the deal. New world champ. Steph Gimore. Steph was biting her nails in the bleachers throughout the remainder of Silvana’s heat, surrounded by her friends and Team Manager Kate and Coco Ho. She was absolutely beside herself after the final horn, and the realization of what that meant.
The Rip Curl Team broke out the Happy Gilmore hats, and Steph was speechless, winning the World Tour as a rookie, drenched in champagne, hoisting the trophy. Steph Gilmore: 2007 ASP Women's World Champion.
PRESS RELEASE BELOW:
Stephanie Gilmore Crowned 2007 ASP World Champion; Surfs into Record Books
HONOLUA BAY, Maui (Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007) - Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) has just made ASP History as the first-ever surfer to claim the ASP World Title in their rookie season, having bested fellow contenders Sofia Mulanovich (PER) and Silvana Lima (BRA) in Round 3 competition today at the Billabong Pro Maui at Honolua Bay.
The 19-year old from Coolangatta, Australia, blitzed past opponent Rochelle Ballard (HAW) with a stunning performance to advance through to the Quarterfinals of the Billabong Pro Maui after rival Mulanovich went down to wildcard Keala Kennelly (HAW) in a surprise Round 3 elimination.
"Surprisingly, I did quite well to not watch Sofia's heat at all, and I didn't even know that Keala (Kennelly) had won until right before my heat was about to start," Gilmore said. "That was interesting. I guess it was awesome for me. I was stoked. It pretty much just fired me up when I heard that, and then the next wave I got barreled."
With Mulanovich eliminated, and following her phenomenal win over the veteran Ballard, Gilmore needed fellow rookie Rosanne Hodge (ZAF) to defeat remaining contender Silvana Lima (BRA) in the final heat of the day to seal the ASP Women's World Title. With less than five minutes remaining, Hodge turned the tide with an incredible forehand assault on a roping righthander which would put her into the lead. The countdown to the heat ended with the raucous applause from the army of media and hundreds of spectators assembled on the beach.
Gilmore first moved to World No. 1 on the ASP ratings when she took out the Rip Curl Bells Beach in Australia in April - though she shared the top spot with 2005 ASP World Champion Chelsea Hedges (AUS) at the time.
She claimed the sole ratings lead after a semifinal finish in Brazil, but then dropped to 4th in the world with a 9th in Spain. Back-to-back wins in Sydney, Australia and Peru put Gilmore in contention to seal the deal with one event to go in Sunset Beach, Hawaii, but the Australian fell short, netting only an equal 9th place finish.
Requiring a result in Maui, Gilmore stepped up her performance at Honolua Bay, consistently displaying her world class form before sealing the title this afternoon.
Despite the numerous accolades collected by predecessors such Layne Beachley (AUS) and Kelly Slater (USA), Gilmore is the first surfer ever to claim the ASP World Title in their rookie season.
"That's amazing, I never even thought of that until now," Gilmore said. "It's truly an honor to make my way into the history books. To do it here in Maui, in waves that are barreling, and with all the family and friends here to share it with is truly amazing. I'm absolutely over the moon, and I'm just at a loss for words."
Gilmore's phenomenal rookie season on the ASP Women's World Tour saw the prodigious natural-footer claim victories at the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, the NAB Beachley Classic in Sydney and the Mancora Peru Classic. Although 2007 was Gilmore's official rookie season, the Australian had already scalped two events as a wildcard prior to this year, the Roxy Pro Gold Coast (2005) and the Bico Beachley Classic (2006).
"I've just had an amazing first year on tour," Gilmore said. "I have great traveling partners like Jessi Miley-Dyer (AUS) and my team manager Kate Skarrat (AUS) has been there for me all the way - she's just a great person to bounce ideas off of. I've also had Mick Fanning (AUS) - he's a fellow Rip Curl teamrider and his season this year has been a real inspiration to me."
Gilmore and Fanning are the first two Australians to concurrently hold the ASP World Titles since 1999.
Looking ahead, Gilmore's precision in the water and competitive savvy will do 19-year-old well as she finishes out the 2007 season and focuses on defending her ASP Women's World Title in 2008.
"Right now, I'm just enjoying the moment," Gilmore said. "It's such an incredible feeling; I honestly can't describe it. Definitely though, next year I will be bringing my focus back to the tour. I don't want to lose this feeling, and I can't wait to finish out the year and head into 2008."
The Billabong Pro Maui will make a call on the Quarterfinals at 7:30am tomorrow.
All Billabong Pro Maui action will be webcast LIVE via www.billabongpro.com/maui07/index.asp and www.aspworldtour.com
For more information, log onto www.aspworldtour.com
FUEL TV will be broadcasting the Billabong Pro Maui presented by Hawaiian Airlines. For more information, log onto www.fuel.tv
STEPHANIE GILMORE - 2007 ASP WOMEN's WORLD TOUR RESULTS
Roxy Pro Gold Coast: Equal 5th
Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach: WINNER
Billabong Girls Pro Brazil: Equal 3rd
Rip Curl Girls Festival Spain: Equal 9th
NAB Beachley Classic Sydney: WINNER
Mancora Peru Classic: WINNER
Roxy Pro Sunset: Equal 9th
Billabong Pro Maui: TBD
RESULTS: Billabong Pro Maui (ASP Women's World Tour)
ROUND 3: 16 surfers remaining
Heat 1: Layne Beachley (AUS) 11.75 def. Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 7.75
Heat 2: Melanie Bartels (HAW) 10.25 def. Chelsea Hedges (AUS) 7.50
Heat 3: Jessi Miley-Dyer (AUS) 18.65 def. Rebecca Woods (AUS) 9.75
Heat 4: Keala Kennelly (HAW) 15.90 def. Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 7.50
Heat 5: Stephanie Gilmore 9AUS) 18.55 def. Rochelle Ballard (HAW) 10.25
Heat 6: Claire Bevilacqua (AUS) 15.00 def. Amee Donohoe (AUS) 12.00
Heat 7: Megan Abubo (HAW) 4.00 def. Samantha Cornish (AUS) 3.50
Heat 8: Rosanne Hodge (ZAF) 13.30 def. Silvana Lima (BRA) 12.25