SEIGNOSSSE, France -- Sally Fitzgibbons rode into the beach with her arms raised high above her head and fell off into the surf with a smile. She has had a string of strong finishes this year, but the 22-year-old Australian was elated by her first win of the season at the 2013 Roxy Pro France on Wednesday afternoon.
"This year's kind of been a little bit of a journey to get to a win, but I kept chipping away," she said. "I think today is extra special because of the way the girls are surfing and the waves are (so) good. It's the most incredible feeling. It's why I'm up at 4 a.m. every morning and I'm here until dark. I'm just so passionate about this sport, so it means a lot."
Fitzgibbons appeared to have struck a deal with Poseidon on the final day of the Roxy Pro. She was never in the wrong spot. She picked zero feeble waves. (Well, to be fair, there weren't really any feeble waves.) Her "Sally model" Firewire board steadfastly carried her across the three-to-four-foot waves at Le Penon in Seignosse and she simply swerved around every obstacle in her path, starting with current world champion Steph Gilmore. First thing in the morning, Gilmore said conditions were so glassy that it was almost challenging, but Fitzgibbons came out of their quarterfinal wearing a huge grin.
"I felt like I was in that good spot," she said. "We've been surfing a lot of onshore, smaller waves, and to get that open section and just drive through a turn felt really nice. To score a perfect 10, that's pretty special. It's my first one in France, so it'll be a really memorable heat."
When the wind did pick up (ever so slightly), it was offshore, and only improved the already-lovely figure of the waves.
Local Pauline Ado put on an amazing show, holding Carissa Moore in a combination situation through most of their quarterfinal heat. The beach was fraught with tension after the hooter as the judges weighed in on the last two waves: Moore's was a 9.00, Ado's a 6.50. Moore took the lead and moved on to face Fitzgibbons in the first semifinal. Her relief was clearly evident, as a win in Hossegor could very well have meant another world title, but Fitzgibbons had other plans. There's definitely been a rivalry developing between Moore and Fitzgibbons over the past couple of years, although neither will admit it. There aren't usually a lot of blowouts when they match up, but Wednesday was an exception. After a near-perfect quarterfinal (19.77), Fitzgibbons continued her roll, putting Moore in a combination situation needing two high scoring rides to overcome the deficit. Fitzgibbons moved into the final with a total heat score of 17.33.
On the other side of the heat draw, Californians Sage Erickson and Lakey Peterson did their best to keep Tyler Wright out of the final, but she got there anyway. For the third time this season, Wright faced Fitzgibbons. Getting started early in the final, Wright popped a clean air, which flowed into a handful of massive snaps. Perfect 10s began dropping from the judges' booth.
"I actually took a risk by going right and getting smashed on the inside for like 20 minutes, but it worked out for the best," Wright said of her 10-point ride. "It panned out. 99 percent of the time, it doesn't, but this time it did, so I'm lucky for that. I finished it off pretty strong, I guess, and I'm happy with the performance that I put on."
Fitzgibbons was just bent on exacting revenge. She battled back and in the end took the top spot on the podium by less than a point.
"Sal was shredding the bag all contest -- comboing people out of the blue -- so yeah, I'm happy with how I went here. It's a great day for women's surfing, I think," Wright said.
As with Bells earlier this year, the Roxy Pro France sent a clear message about the state of women's surfing: when you put the Top 17 ladies into quality waves, their performances respond accordingly.
The 2013 ASP women's world title race is now even closer. A mere 200 points separate Moore, who remains in the lead, and Wright. It will all come down to the eighth and final event of the season, the EDP Cascais Girls' Pro, which begins October 3 in Portugal.
ROXY PRO FRANCE FINAL RESULTS:
1. Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 17.67
2. Tyler Wright (AUS) 17.00
ROXY PRO FRANCE SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
SF 1: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 17.33 def. Carissa Moore (HAW) 9.83
SF 2: Tyler Wright (AUS) 14.36 def. Lakey Peterson (USA) 12.73
ROXY PRO FRANCE QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
QF 1: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 19.77 def. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 14.60
QF 2: Carissa Moore (HAW) 16.27 def. Pauline Ado (FRA) 14.90
QF 3: Tyler Wright (AUS) 16.43 def. Sage Erickson (USA) 14.84
QF 4: Lakey Peterson (USA) 18.70 def. Courtney Conlogue (USA) 14.50
ROXY PRO FRANCE ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 16.50 def. Alana Blanchard (HAW) 12.10
Heat 2: Pauline Ado (FRA) 15.00 def. Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 9.10
Heat 3: Sage Erickson (USA) 12.67 def. Malia Manuel (HAW) 11.50
Heat 4: Lakey Peterson (USA) 15.03 def. Coco Ho (HAW) 15.00