Carissa Moore won the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro for the second consecutive year on Sunday, and as a result she now sits tied with Steph Gilmore atop the ASP Women's World Tour ranking.
"I'm very blessed to win here again," Moore said afterwards. "I have a great group of people supporting me. It's a very challenging wave and I'm constantly learning, so I'm just really thankful that I was able to walk away with it today."
Moore and Tyler Wright repeated last year's showdown in an excruciatingly close 35-minute final. The battlefield: four-to six-foot Margarets. The score: 15.73 to 14.10.
The pair was locked in one of the closest title races in ASP history last season, which came down to the final day of the final event, in Portugal. If this event is any indicator, this year could be more of the same.
"I'm actually pretty happy with how that all went. I was pleased with how I surfed and how I ran everything. There was one wave that I made a mistake on and I think it could have gone either way if I finished it," said Wright. "Carissa just nailed it, she's so strong and she's the coolest human."
Gone are the days of "We're all friends here." The women's tour has evolved into a forum for cutthroat competition.
"I think anytime any of us are in a final, we want to win it; we want to take it home," Moore said after the event. "I was really excited. I was listening to my music and I was like, 'Come on, this is time.'"
In the semifinals, Stephanie Gilmore put together a performance highlighted by beautiful rail work. Nothing super new school, but after a rocky 2013, Gilmore appears to have her confidence back. Moore, on the other hand, surfed with hyper-progressive panache, like a massive fin drift rotation which earned her an 8.33. The wave put Gilmore in a combination situation, from which she couldn't recover. Since Gilmore and Moore each have first and equal third finishes this season, they're currently knotted with 16,500 points atop the ASP Women's World Tour rating. Wright and Bianca Buitendag are close behind with 13,200.
"Carissa was definitely pushing things and I was probably trying to be a little more safe. Which didn't work out in the end," Gilmore said after her semifinal loss. "[But] this is the most events we've ever had on tour and I'm looking forward to seeing how the year pans out. Carissa [and I] have got a good little rivalry going on; it's been going for a couple of years."
The second semi offered heightened swell and cleaner faces. Sally Fitzgibbons and Wright both rode their step-up boards because of the sizeable conditions. Wright took the lead with dynamic snaps, an unlikely layback recovery, and ferocious commitment, not to mention expert wave selection and a strategy that involved utilizing the jet ski assist. With five minutes left, Fitzgibbons needed an 8.0, of which she is completely capable, but she couldn't find the waves.
"I knew which waves I was looking for. Unfortunately, the ones that Tyler got her scores on, I was just a little too far out for. She surfed a great heat and we always have some really good battles, even if it's not super high scores, so I think I'll just go back over the heat and see what I can learn, and then move on to Bells," Fitzgibbons said in a post-heat interview. Other standouts included Bianca Buitendag and Courtney Conlogue. Conlogue, who won the Margaret River Pro two years in a row when it was a part of the Qualifying Series, sailed through the first and third rounds with a take-no-prisoners approach, but after essentially handing a wave over to Gilmore in the quarters, the five-time world champ went ahead and beat her by 0.03.
Goofy-footer Buitendag came into this competition with formidable momentum after a runner-up finish on the Gold Coast and blasted her way through both non-elimination rounds, easily earning her spot in the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Fitzgibbons. Buitendag's Round 3 heat total was actually the highest of the event: 17.50.
The ASP World Tour's next stop is the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach in Victoria, Australia. It runs from April 16 to 27, 2014.