Sally Fitzgibbons rode her much-talked-of little epoxy board to a second 2012 World Tour win at the Billabong Rio Pro on Sunday. The 21-year-old Aussie pocketed a surfboard-shaped check for $25,000 and 10,000 points toward a world title after amicably defeating Hawaiian Coco Ho, also 21, in a nerve-racking final. Fitzgibbons claimed victory with just a 0.07 advantage over Ho. The final scores were 14.10 to 14.03.
After a few flat days, Barra da Tijuca appeared to be positively pumping on Sunday morning as clean 1- to 3-footers hit the bank, though conditions were still hairy and the finalists suffered their share of rail digs and wipeouts.
While Fitzgibbons' sage equipment selection undoubtedly played a part in her success, she's had an incredibly strong season and consistently impressive results at the Rio Pro. Despite having logged heaps of scores, her wave selection was off during the final and Ho held a respectable lead until Fitzgibbons nabbed a bomb (by the week's standards, anyway). She parlayed four spectacular turns into a last-minute conquer.
"That was so crazy. Coco had me on the ropes, for sure," Fitzgibbons said. "I was just sort of fingers and toes crossed. You know, a few mistakes -- that happens in finals -- and I felt that there was one coming. Thinking ahead [about the world title race], that's pretty far to go -- there's still a couple of events. It's obviously an amazing result, and two wins at Bells, as well, so I'm having a great year. I'm having so much fun."
Ho's heat strategy is typically to go big up front and capitalize on an early lead. The 2012 season hasn't exactly worked out that way for her, but she's safely in the requalification zone at the moment, up from a 12th-place ranking to ninth. She advanced to the final after an arduous semifinal win over 18-year-old wild card Alessa Quizon.
Current world champion and last year's Rio Pro winner Carissa Moore fell to Fitzgibbons in the semis, but she's worked her way up to third on the world rankings. Moore's chances of catching leader Steph Gilmore and Fitzgibbons are slim. However, we can expect to witness some compelling combat as the remainder of the season unfolds.
The women's next stop is the Roxy Pro Biarritz, which is rife with competitive history for the top three. Moore clenched her title in Biarritz, France, last July, though Gilmore actually won the comp -- after defeating Fitzgibbons in the semis. Spectators could be in for some loaded rematches.
Later this July, the Tour makes its final stop in Huntington Beach, Calif., at the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing. Defending champ Fitzgibbons has already doubled up Bells trophies and will surely be seeking back-to-back U.S. Open victories. Current No. 4 Courtney Conlogue and rookie of the year contender Lakey Peterson are no strangers to Huntington's infamously dicey conditions, either. So, basically, the ranking is far from set in stone.
The Roxy Pro in Biarritz, France, will be held July 10-14, 2012. For more info, check out ASPWorldTour.com.
BILLABONG WOMEN'S RIO PRO FINAL RESULT:
1. Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 14.10
2. Coco Ho (HAW) 14.03
BILLABONG WOMEN'S RIO PRO SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
Semifinal 1: Coco Ho (HAW) 14.16 def. Alessa Quizon (HAW) 10.94
Semifinal 2: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 15.47 def. Carissa Moore (HAW) 15.36
CURRENT ASP WOMEN'S WCT TOP 5 (After Billabong Rio Pro):
1. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 38,400 pts
2. Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 36,900 pts
3. Carissa Moore (HAW) 30,200 pts
4. Courtney Conlogue (USA) 29,600 pts
5. Tyler Wright (AUS) 28,700 pts