This could change everything!
The perfect hook of the first turn. That midface dance step. The barrel so deep, it looked like it must surely be a close-out. The exit. The lookback as if to say, well yes, I made it. Of course, I made it. And a quick bang of a close-out move to finish it.
Surely, Steph Gilmore’s final wave was one of the best perfect tens I’ve ever seen. There was no need to second-guess it, to hesitate, to ask, but was it really. It certainly was. Emphatically, Gilmore won Keramas and took over the lead in the world rankings. That final wave made the outcome look inevitable, as though it were preordained, but it was only a month ago that Gilmore made an early exit from Duranbah, defeated by Caroline Marks. A lot can change in a month.
Before we go further, I will go ahead and confess: This story is late. In internet time, it’s several years past due. Blame Yemen. If Chas sent you his book manuscript about Yemen, what would you do? You would drop everything and read it.
So really, this is all the fault of Chas. And Yemen.
Someone was going to have to surf in the crumbling onshore conditions on Friday (local time), if the contest was going to finish on time. Women’s quarterfinals drew the unlucky short straw. I came home from a surf in shitty, cold, wind-fucked conditions, hoping to see dreamy Keramas. It was… not that dreamy, really.
The judges enjoyed Brisa Hennessey’s surfing more than I did. She felt consistently overscored to me. She had speed and variety, but also some dodgy rails and awkward, off balance moments. Yes, the waves had weird wind bump. Sure. But when they threw her an eight for that final wave, where she barely held on for the close-out, it seemed a point or two on the side of generous. It was an 8.37 and won her the heat in the final minute.
Carissa Moore’s top-scoring wave involved — and involved is the correct word here — a beauty frontside reverse, followed by three tidy turns and a fairly standard close-out move. No bobbles, no warbles, and a big turn straight off the start. The judges gave it a 8.6. The spread between Moore’s 8.6 and Hennessey’s 8.37 left me guessing. Moore’s score looked right. Hennessey, well, let’s just say, I wasn’t convinced.
The heat between Courtney Conlogue and Steph Gilmore promised fireworks. With Marks out early, either Conlogue or Gilmore could take over the ratings lead. It started slow before Conlogue threw down a seven, and until the dying minutes, it seemed as though Conlogue had it.
Not so fast.
On her final wave, Gilmore strung together three characteristically stylish turns. Then she slid out on the closeout move. Gilmore has said that she thinks the judges sometimes throw her a little extra for her style and flow. I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing, though I suspect Conlogue would not agree. They threw Gilmore a 7.23, weighting the three completed turns more heavily than the failed closeout move. It won her the heat, and I’ll confess I had to watch that final wave a few times before I agreed she deserved the score.
The highlight of the semis for me was Sally Fitzgibbons’s cheeky barrel. Fitzgibbons came out firing in this heat — as with Conlogue and Gilmore, Fitzgibbons also had the top spot in the rankings in sight. She succeeded in keeping Hennessey in check and advanced on the strength of a 6.90 and an 8.70. Between them, they rode 14 waves. Let’s just say, there was a lot going on.
The second semifinal could not have been more different. Gilmore played it safe and did enough to defeat Nikki Van Dijk, who tried valiantly to throw big turns, but consistently misjudged her timing. As perfect waves rolled through the lineup, Gilmore’s conservatism frustrated. Come on, Steph, please? Please take a set? But in truth, why should she, when she had Van Dijk comfortably under control.
Gilmore’s decision to play it chill may also have served — whether intentionally or not — as a bluff directed at Fitzgibbons. Why not allow Fitzgibbons, hot off a high-scoring heat against Hennessey, to believe Gilmore just wasn’t that on? It’s the kind of strategy Slater might pull — and Gilmore isn’t really known for tactics. Without intending to, though, Gilmore may have set up Fitzgibbons to hit the water overconfident.
Whatever the tactics, Fitzgibbons trailed Gilmore from the start. Steph’s first wave was a tidy 6.83 — and turned out to be a keeper. She consistently kept the pressure on Fitzgibbons, who couldn’t muster more than a 5.50. Even without the ten, Gilmore had the heat won.
But the ten is what we’ll remember, long after anything else. It won’t be the onshore slog, or how long it took to get to finals day. It’ll be that ten. The wave gleamed green jewels. Overhead, perfectly clean. Who even saw that barrel coming, I certainly didn’t. In those conditions, when the waves are insanely good, Gilmore’s unstoppable.
Gilmore is world number one again — but the title race is far from over. Six women crowd the top of the rankings: Gilmore, Marks, Conlogue, Moore, Fitzgibbons, and Malia Manuel. A win from any one of them at Margaret River could change everything.