The Top 17 seized the tail end of a fading swell and powered through elimination round two of the Margaret River Pro on Sunday. Conditions varied markedly from heat to heat (sometimes even within heats) as 3 to 5-foot sets fizzled into flat spells, which then gave way to rogue bombs. With the exception of five-time world champion Steph Gilmore, who somehow coaxed an 18.87 heat total from the fickle waves, most scores hovered near the 12-point mark. Despite the round's lower scores, many of the surfers seemed more comfortable in Sunday's diminished swell. Or maybe it was just that, as heat four winner Lakey Peterson put it, "Margies is harder to crack than it looks."
"The more you surf that wave, the more confident you get," she said, "Because even though it's one defined peak and it's not like you're trying to figure out where the best wave's breaking, it's actually really tricky. I was bummed about losing yesterday, but it was almost a blessing in disguise. We'll have the next few years here, so the more I surf it -- in all conditions -- the better."
Gilmore agreed that her second day in WA was "way better," admitting that she mistakenly thought she could ride the same boards as at home on the Gold Coast in Saturday's heavy swell. On Sunday, she redeemed herself by selecting the best waves, finding the best sections, and unleashing a barrage of omnipotent, stylish turns. Essentially, she surfed as she usually does and it landed her where it usually does: Bounds ahead of everyone else.
"Yesterday, I was getting stuck majorly, and it's the same board [today], but it feels tenfold different," she said. "I think it's just because yesterday there was heaps of wind up the face and the rights were large, but soft. It was strange. I'll just work on it as I go. But it feels good to get back in the groove of things."
"It's going to be interesting to see what kind of conditions we get, come round three," Gilmore told the ASP. "It builds my confidence to get a couple of nines, but at the same time, I know I have to just keep bettering my knowledge of the wave and just be in the water, feeling it out."
The Margaret River Pro is Bianca Buitendag's second-ever World Tour event, and though she says she's still learning the ropes, she seemed to have little trouble mastering the wave's complexity. That's probably because she went in with a solid game plan. She stuck with her coach's advice on which waves to catch and repressed her inner risk-taker, who was just clawing to get out. The mature approach was imperceptible to spectators, who soaked up her dynamic maneuvers, and it paid off when she was in position for the wave of the heat. The judges awarded her a 9.17 -- one of the event's top scores and a major boost in beating Pauline Ado.
"Yesterday, I let a bomb go by and it was haunting me," she said. "So I went for it and I just tried to [surf] it safely. It felt really slow and safe, but the scores seemed to think otherwise. I think when the wave's big, it's nice to go slow and it still looks fine."
Word on the street is that Monday and Tuesday may be lay days, as the swell will fill in again on Wednesday afternoon, but the official call is at 6:30 a.m. on Monday. When the contest resumes with round three, we can expect to see some brilliant match-ups. Case in point: Gilmore, Buitendag, and Coco Ho will collide in heat two.
2013 DRUG AWARE MARGARET RIVER PRO RESULTS:
WOMEN'S ROUND 2:
HEAT 1: Alana Blanchard (HAW) 12.00 def. Silvana Lima (BRA) 9.73
HEAT 2: Paige Hareb (NZL) 11.23 def. Malia Manuel (HAW) 10.17
HEAT 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 18.87 def. Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 12.50
HEAT 4: Lakey Peterson (USA) 13.34 def. Rebecca Woods (AUS) 9.87
HEAT 5: Coco Ho (HAW) 10.27 def. Sage Erickson (USA) 9.00
HEAT 6: Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 14.67 def. Pauline Ado (FRA) 10.67
WOMEN'S ROUND 3 MATCH-UPS:
HEAT 1: Carissa Moore (HAW), Courtney Conlogue (USA), Felicity Palmateer (AUS)
HEAT 2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), Coco Ho (HAW), Bianca Buitendag (ZAF)
HEAT 3: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), Laura Enever (AUS), Alana Blanchard (HAW)
HEAT 4: Tyler Wright (AUS), Lakey Peterson (USA), Paige Hareb (NZL)