The 2014 ASP World Championship Tour season has kicked off in grand fashion, with an ecstatic Steph Gilmore back atop the podium at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast. Gilmore couldn't suppress her smiles after winning her first ASP Wormen's World Tour event since the 2012 Roxy Pro France, and though she has won at this venue four times before, few experiences can top winning a tour event at home -- especially after a bit of a dry spell.
"Oh my gosh, I haven't felt that feeling for a little while," Gilmore said, elated after her win. "I had it in my head from the beginning [that] it's 30 minutes and you only have to catch two waves and just have fun," she continued. "I feel like that's what I did, and it's the best feeling ever."
At the onset of the Roxy Pro, many would have argued that Carissa Moore, the reigning world champion, was a cut above her competitors. Her surfing has been so strong, and her scores near perfect. During the third round, Moore was quick and punctual. Her fin pops were effortless. She ended up taking out Malia Manuel and Pauline Ado with a 19.50: her highest WCT heat total. Ever.
But Steph Gilmore had Carissa Moore comboed halfway through their semifinal, wrapping cutbacks to vertical snaps to barrels all in easy, fluid motions. She knocked Moore out of the comp with a 17.10.
"Steph did a really great job of picking the right ones and surfing them well, and she was in a really good rhythm," Moore said after her semifinal loss. "I wish I could have surfed a little bit more on some better waves, but that's the way it goes. As much as it sucks to lose, you learn the most from your losses and the mistakes you make, so I'm just going to try my best to regroup and get excited for the next couple of events."
Earlier in the competition, Gilmore admitted that local knowledge is a definite advantage at Snapper and during the final, wise wave selection was partially responsible for the 8.80 and a 7.0 that left Bianca Buitendag in a combination situation.
Buitendag, a goofy-footer and last year's ASP Rookie of the Year, advanced to the final after defeating Tyler Wright in the quarterfinal when she posted an uncharacteristically low-heat total despite huge, explosive turns. In her short career, Buitendag has already shown not only tremendous natural talent (and a flair for backside riding), but a keen ability to adapt and learn on the spot.
"Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself," Buitendag said after the semifinal. "This year, [I decided] I'm just going to make the most of every opportunity and enjoy every second of it, and that's exactly what I've been doing. [Growing up on a right-hand pointbreak] is definitely beneficial. I've been surfing rights my whole life and this wave is so similar to waves at home. It's second nature to me."
Buitendag made it to the quarters in her first-ever WCT event at Snapper last year, and today, she bettered that result and finds herself second in the world.
And now, a quick breakdown of the event itself and the state of the tour reborn: The ASP's new look, which permeates everything from its website and contest jerseys to the competitors' hideout and editorial imagery, is clean and modern.
The ASP has new sponsorships, partnerships and board members (Hey, Jimmy Buffett). There are new prize purses, venues and rules. The whole thing is shiny and new and speaks to progress. Putting the women's semifinals on hold as slightly unpredictable 3-foot waves crashed over the rocks at Snapper was a bold statement, implying officials wanted to see the event through in flawless surf.
The Roxy Pro's waiting period is always pretty long, but this year's was a full 12 days, allowing contest officials and surfers to take full advantage of that window and permitting waves that would have been called "contestable" in the past to cruise by unsurfed.
Along with her 10,000 WCT points, Gilmore won $60,000 on Tuesday and Buitendag took home $25,000, which is $10,000 more than she would have earned for winning last year's event. Bigger prizes should effectively keep Top 17ers from needing to crowdfund their Tour campaigns.
With nine events left to go, it's too early to start thinking about titles. But really, it's never too early. This comp has historically proven to be a solid indicator of who's worthy of a world championship title, and after Tuesday's win Gilmore is well on her way back to the top.
"I think that winning that heat against Carissa was a big confidence booster for me and obviously, it's going to be a long, hard year, and I'll do as much as I can to try and win the title. We'll see," Gilmore said.