But Moore and Fitzgibbons are ready to pounce!
Before last year, Steph Gilmore had never surfed J-Bay. That is insane to imagine. In truth, the two are made for one another. J-Bay’s stretched canvas perfectly suits her clean, swooping style. It’s hard to look past Gilmore to repeat this year, especially after seeing her Instagram clip from a day or two ago. Hi, my name is Steph, and I’m going to get barreled now. Yes, yes you are, Steph.
Do you dream of point breaks? Shaun Tomson once described surfing J-Bay to me as being like flying. For the Californians, imagine the best day you’ve ever seen at Rincon. Then, imagine it better — faster and more powerful. Imagine the puff of offshore wind that pushes you up the face, faster and still faster. Imagine the long wall stretching out in front of you, and the burn in your legs when finally reach the end. Sharks, cold water, whatever — visions of J-Bay dance in my dreams.
When we last saw the women’s CT, they were in Brazil, which is pretty much the opposite of J-Bay in every way. Sally Fitzgibbons won in a final against Carissa Moore, and jumped up to the top of the world rankings. Moore heads to J-Bay in second, with Gilmore currently in third. The top three remain close in the world title race, and they’ve begun to pull away ever so slightly from the rest. Just over 2000 points separate Fitzgibbons from Gilmore — and a win throws 10k points in the bucket.
Stacked up behind Gilmore are Courtney Conlogue, Lakey Peterson, and Caroline Marks. At the start of the year, did you expect to see Peterson and Marks tied for fifth? I did not, but here we are. If you are playing Olympic selection bingo, the tense battle among Conlogue, Peterson, and Marks has an extra zing. If Moore holds her lead, the second slot will go to one of these three women. That reality certainly adds some pressure to the game.
Last year at J-Bay, Moore went out in round three, which I had completely forgotten until I looked again at the results. That’s a surprise, because I’d expect J-Bay to suit her. This contest surfing thing is a crazy old game. Caroline Marks also went out in round three last year, which we can expect her to better this time around. No surprise at all, that Gilmore and Peterson met in last year’s final. Both surf right points beautifully, and the title race was pretty much all about Peterson and Gilmore in 2018.
Fitzgibbons, Moore, Gilmore: The top three in the rankings are a study in contrasts. Fitzgibbons has smoothed out her style, but hasn’t lost her trademark animation. Fitzgibbons reminds me of a gymnast after a big floor combination, all smiles and arms in the air. I’m not sure Fitzgibbons 2.0 has moved far enough away from her old skitters to win at J-Bay, but by leading the world rankings, she’s making a strong case for herself.
Moore is understated, much like Florence. Big powerful, precise turns, nothing out of place. When she throws something unique, like the reverse at Bali, there’s no showmanship, no hey, look what I just did. She expects the surfing to stand on its own and there is much to respect in that approach. But this may also be why Moore often seems underscored. When Moore loses a heat, it’s generally because she can’t find the waves that’ll let her do the turns she sees in her head. She can grovel, but she’ll avoid it, sometimes until much too late in the game.
Gilmore is all style and so much of what makes her surfing stand out is what happens between the turns. With Gilmore, it’s a wild, joyous dance and it’s easy to miss the clean rail work that makes all that stylish vibing possible. Watching Gilmore at J-Bay is a near-perfect marriage between wave and surfer. I’ll be following this one mostly on replay. Do I watch Gilmore’s heats first? Or do I save them until last like a scrumptious dessert?
If we’ve learned anything this year, though, the top three do not have a lock on this thing. Not at all. I like Malia Manuel to make a run up the rankings. She finished second at Bells and if the waves are good, her smooth arcing turns are well-matched to J-Bay. Of the Conlogue, Peterson, Marks triad, anything could happen there. All three have won events this year, but none has been consistently on form. That’s Moore’s super power this year so far: Rock solid consistency.
Last, but not least! Coco Ho is out of J-Bay, the first event she’ll miss in her 11 years on Tour, she says. She tore her MCL doing an air. Apparently, this breaking knees doing airs thing is contagious. Last year, Ho made the quarters at J-Bay and she’s currently ranked tenth, tied with Johanne Defay. Come back soon, Coco Ho! We miss you already.
The waiting period starts tomorrow, 9 July. Let’s all dream of point breaks together. It’ll be fun, maybe!