The opening rounds of the Roxy Pro Gold Coast weren't at all predictable, but any surf geek with an able web browser could have picked this year's semifinalists. The last four surfers standing also happen to be the top four female surfers in the world: Steph Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons, Carissa Moore, and Tyler Wright.
The quarterfinals were held in dredging four to six-foot barrels at Kirra's legendary Big Groyne on Thursday morning. The comp has been creeping north along the Superbank all week, and after a striking display of Kirra's impeccable draperies on Wednesday afternoon, officials christened it HQ. They quickly assembled the trappings of a mobile contest site on the Point and spectators soon lined the boardwalk.
Competitors surfed one-on-one heats and made use of jet ski assistance to save time in battling the break's notoriously tremendous sweep. While Kirra is beautiful, it can also be fickle. None of the quarters winners had ever surfed a heat at Kirra before, and all of them described Thursday's conditions as "tricky." They overcame airdrops, punishing lips, and long lulls. In other words, there was down time, but viewers' patience was rewarded with dramatic performances: Free-falling to below sea level, threading barrels, and post-vertical snaps.
"It's crazy because I've hardly even spent time out here," Moore said. "I just saw the tents and decided to drift down this morning and caught a few. Some of them [lips] are definitely kind of thick, but it was good. The girls did really well, so that was really exciting."
Wright said it was easy to get lost with such strong currents and only one other person in the water. "You're like, 'Oh wait, am I in the right spot? No, I'm not in the right spot. I'm way out to sea!'"
Gilmore pulled into a five-second barrel and, as if that wasn't sufficient, she capped it off with two beautiful turns. Judges awarded her a 9.8, which was the highest wave score of the day.
"Whenever I think of Kirra, I think of Mick Fanning in the old Quiksilver film, 'Enjoy the Ride,'" she said, "and this footage of him in these crystal clear barrels. He's just racing, going so fast, and when I took off on that wave, I kind of thought I was Mick Fanning for about 0.5 seconds. That was my inspiration to finish driving down the line and stall, and milk as many points as I could."
Fitzgibbons had the highest heat total of the day, a 14.20. She said, "[This was my] first heat at Kirra, it was obviously a bit tricky on this tide, but there's definitely always that magic one hiding out there, so it's all about trying to be in that spot or making sure your opponent's not."
The women's quarterfinal round was the only one surfed on Thursday. Contest officials will assess conditions at 6:30 a.m. on Friday and determine whether to run. Crowning of the 2013 Roxy Pro winner is just three heavyweight heats away.
"I'm looking forward to a great match-up with Sally [in the semifinal]," Moore said. "We've always had great heats together and I'm just looking to put on a great performance and have fun out there. Hopefully, we'll get some good waves."
ROXY PRO GOLD COAST QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
QF 1: Tyler Wright (AUS) 13.50 def. Courtney Conlogue (USA) 7.94
QF 2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 12.97 def. Alana Blanchard (HAW) 5.06
QF 3: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 14.20 def. Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 1.50
QF 4: Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.00 def. Pauline Ado (FRA) 8.37
ROXY PRO GOLD COAST SEMIFINAL MATCH-UPS:
SF 1: Tyler Wright (AUS) vs. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
SF 2: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Carissa Moore (HAW)