And storms into Finals Day contention as tour moves to Tahiti!
After two seasons without a contest victory, Lakey Peterson won Jeffrey’s Bay on Wednesday. She says it’s the contest she has most wanted to win in her career. On Instagram she called it “a dream come true” and said J-Bay is “her favorite event.” Lakey’s come close in the past, with second place finishes behind Steph and Carissa. Finally this year, she made the top step.
Now 28, Lakey has struggled through the past few years. It’s a long way from the heady days of 2018 where she put up a solid challenge for the world title against eventual winner Steph Gilmore. We have to go back to 2019 to find her most recent event win, which came at Surf Ranch. She also won Margaret River, and finished third in the world that year.
Obviously, there was the lost 2020 year. Then Lakey missed the abbreviated 2021 season to a back injury. It’s been a slow climb back. A pair of second place finishes last year stand out, and she’s twice made the semis at Pipe. Plainly, she’s been doing the work. On the whole, the small conditions this year didn’t suit Lakey’s powerful style. and she got stuck damn close to the cut line.
Fortunately, the waves turned on at J-Bay. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but rare is the day when perfect waves show up. Isn’t that why we all keep looking for them? That one special day is special for a reason.
The fast inside runners that J-Bay offered this year suited Lakey perfectly. Her ability to generate speed gives her a distinct advantage. That speed is an underrated element of her surfing, and it allowed her to scoot through sections that derailed some of her competitors. Perhaps influenced by a coaching change — she worked with Micro Hall this time around — her surfing had more variety than usual. It looks good on her.
Despite a dropping swell with plenty of lulls, Lakey and second-place Molly Picklum brought big energy to their final. Between them, they took off on 23 waves, and a few times, I completely lost track of what was being scored. They probably did, too. Lakey rightly came out on top, but Molly didn’t make it easy for her. If you’re going to watch one heat out of the women’s comp, make it the final.
How much did you love Molly’s fuck-you claim? She’s a feisty one. Molly claims pretty much every wave, and I don’t even hate it. And in truth, she had one hell of a comp. Her path to the final ran through Steph in the quarters and Carissa in the semis, and she dispatched them both. That’s 12 world titles, smashed on the rocks. Fuck you, world titles!
Molly has benefitted from the judges’ love for close-out hits this season, and she made them count. Against both Steph and Carissa, the ability to land those finishing moves made the difference. In the final, she couldn’t match Lakey’s speed and sharp turns, but she should be proud of this one. Molly’s now sittin’ pretty in the top five.
During the elimination round I learned that Carissa wears her leash tucked under the ankle of her wetsuit. I have questions. This was Carissa’s second time breaking a board at J Bay and doing the long run around. She still managed to beat Johanne Defay, and put up her best scores — 8.50 and 7.77 — after paddling out again.
After dispatching local Sarah Baum in the quarters, Carissa ran straight into Molly. It was a low-scoring heat without a lot of waves on offer. Carissa left points on the table by falling twice on the end section. Her final wave, a 5.17 would readily have won her the heat otherwise. Molly made it through with a 6.50 and 3.50. I’m not sure if she claimed that 3.50, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Not judging!
So, what about Caity?
She went out early this time, losing to Lakey in the elimination round, and it wasn’t especially close. Caity had a pair of 4’s to Lakey’s 7 and 6. The long walls at J-Bay showed Caity’s small size. Trying to project a 5’4” down the line is going to be a challenge for her and she never really looked at home out there. I love how quickly Caity learns, and I wouldn’t be surprised if next year, she looks entirely different out there.
Caity’s new and exciting and that’s led her to become the surfing internet’s It girl. She’s won two events this year, equaling Carissa’s rookie year in 2010. That’s an impressive stat. Looking at her results, it’s been a bit all or nothing. In addition to her two wins, Caity’s also finished ninth in four events. Currently, she’s sitting fifth overall, with Tahiti left to go.
Caity’s been compared to Dane and John John, which is some heavy pressure. She’s also been cast as the anti-contest surfer, though it’s unclear to me what her true attitude might be. For some commentators, she seems to represent an avatar for their dissatisfaction with the current WSL program and with women’s surfing, more generally. I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to saddle her with all of that baggage.
For me, Caity remains a bit of an enigma. I was told several years ago to keep an eye on her and that she has a legit rare talent. I’ve seen no reason to doubt that assessment at all. To me, her inconsistent performances this year look more like growing pains than anything. Sometimes, she still looks like a grom out there — and at 17, that’s okay. Two contest wins and a shot at the final five is an awesome start to a CT career.
Before we look at the final five, a note on rankings. For this year, there’s only one dropped score. I confirmed this one with the WSL for y’all, because I’m a giver! They’ve already dropped the lowest score before the cut, so what you see is what you get for the current rankings.
On the women’s side, only one spot remains open in the top five. Carissa, Tyler, Caroline, and Molly have all made the Trestles final. Thanks to her win at J-Bay, Lakey sits sixth in the rankings, roughly 3k points behind Caity. If Caity falters in Tahiti, Lakey has a shot at overtaking her. It’s still mathematically possible for Steph to make the final five, too, though that scenario looks less likely to me.
To add a little more pressure to the mix, an Olympic spot for the UU women is also in play. Thanks to their victory at the 2022 ISA World Championship, the US women have three slots at the 2024 Olympics. Carissa and Caroline look likely to scoop up two slots, leaving a third up for grabs between Caity and Lakey. The Olympic selection is based on rankings after Tahiti, but before Trestles. Weird, but true!
The J-Bay comp always feels like a taunt with its long, gleaming walls. It comes during the flattest part of the year in my neighborhood where the point breaks are sound asleep, dreaming happy point break dreams. Someday, they will awake. In the meantime, we wait.
In fact, it’s been a slow summer all around in California so far. But I remain optimistic, and I even bought a new board recently. I put a pink pad on it, because I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to be cranky with a pink traction pad. I’ll report back on this important question. For science!
In the meantime, the CT has one event left to go in Tahiti before the Trestles final. Hopefully, some south swell finds its way to both places in time. It’s been a lot of days of small surf on Tour this year, but for one day, at least, the waves turned on at J-Bay. Maybe there’s hope for us after all.