And more thoughts from the most well-written about day in professional surfing's history!
In the opening rounds of Bells, I chose Carissa Moore as the favorite to win. I am bad at predictions, and this one proved no better than any other I’ve ever made.
The ocean turned on and as it often does, scrambled the board. Somehow, I’d forgotten that Courtney Conologue had won twice previously at Bells. I should read those screen graphics once in a while, maybe. And you call yourself a surf writer, they’ll be saying. What are you even doing, they’ll be saying.
On the day of the 50 Year Storm™ Courtney came out firing. I’d agree with LT that the judges were overly exuberant in scoring her first waves, but after the tentative turns from Lakey Peterson and Coco Ho in the previous round, Courtney looked impressive and committed. Lakey squeaked by Coco mostly on determination. When a wave didn’t work, she tried again. And again. No need for a secret turn, that competitive, die-trying mentality is Lakey’s superpower.
With Courtney on fire, Carissa looked slow to start. It’s as though she found the waves she wanted too late in the heat to matter. After a dominant performance in the opening heat, that had to have stung for Carissa. And she said later on the socials, that she was frustrated with how the heat went for her — and understandably. Carissa’s quarterfinal exit dropped her from second to fourth in the rankings.
Against Malia, Steph Gilmore looked lost. When Steph loses heats, it often goes exactly this way. She stares at the horizon as though she’s never seen the ocean before. It’s strange to watch someone as experienced as she is fail to read the lineup. Malia, meanwhile, was one of the last to come in from the pre-contest warm-up session and she looked confident and controlled in the storm-fucked chaos. Where Courtney’s turns oozed aggression, Malia glided through the wreckage. And it was good enough to send the seven-time champ home.
The heat between Caroline Marks and Brisa Hennessey proved closer than I expected. Surely, Caroline would win this one with ease. Not so fast. In fact, Brisa came damn close and needed only a two to advance. The bigger surf, meanwhile, smoothed out Caroline’s style. Her performance at Bells put to rest any questions about her ability to compete in bigger waves and suggested. It was surely a relief to Caroline when Brisa failed to find that last wave she needed.
It was heartbreaking to watch Lakey try to surf injured in her semi against Courtney. The conditions suited her to perfection and the heat promised fireworks. Instead, Lakey gingerly attempted a few turns, but it was clearly too painful to surf. Sending good vibes her way on that front. Courtney rode a couple good ones and called it done, no doubt saving some fire for the final.
Somehow, Malia looked more nervous in the clean conditions in her semi with Caroline than she had in the previous day’s victory at sea lineup. But I doubt anyone in the women’s draw will feel entirely at ease surfing a semi against Caroline Marks at this point. She’s clearly a giant slayer. Surfing against her idols, knocking them down one by one, like it’s no big thing.
This time around, Caroline never really found the waves she needed for a solid score. Malia threaded together a couple long rides to advance and smartly used her priority to keep Caroline off the sets as the clock ticked away.
The waves were gorgeous for the women’s final. Malia took an early lead with long, beautiful lines. After not much more than ten minutes, Courtney needed a nine. Malia looked to have it well in hand, but a fall on her third wave left the door open a crack.
And that’s all Courtney needed. She used her priority to grab a set wave and surfed the fuck out of it. Was it an actual ten? I have a hard time arguing that it wasn’t. After that, Malia needed a high seven to win and could only come up with a pair of three’s. That’s three wins for Bells for Courtney — maybe I can remember that number this time next year.
American women now crowd the top of the rankings — and the US Olympic team race looks spicy. Caroline still leads. Malia sits second with event winner Courtney right behind her. Three-time World Champion Carissa is fourth, which she’ll certainly want to better. Lakey is sixth in the world, and fifth among the Americans. Only two of them can surf Tokyo. It’s far too early to figure this thing out, but we definitely have an entertaining battle on our hands for those top two slots.
Next up is Bali, which could help Caroline tighten her hold on the lead. But after guessing mostly wrong at Bells, I’m definitely out of the prediction business. After a slow start, Bells sure turned out to be a show.