Waves of consequence are what we're after and West Oz delivered them on the opening day of the 2013 Drug Aware Margaret River Pro. Broken boards, heavy hold downs, and the ever-looming threat of woman-eating sharks were just a few of the perils the Top 17 faced Saturday morning as they fearlessly launched themselves into 5- to 8-foot bombs at Surfers Point. Australians Sally Fitzgibbons, Tyler Wright and Felicity Palmateer distinguished themselves with high scores and demonstrated their competence in high-stakes surf.
It's easy to liken Surfers Point to Bells Beach because the two venues look similar: Unpopulated, rocky cliffs and horizons filled with steady lines. But looks can be deceiving. Joel Parkinson explained that Bells is "slow and slopey," Margarets just isn't. The extensive paddle out over craggy reef is, in itself, exhausting and time-consuming, and the proper board is absolutely essential. To save time and energy in instances of snaps and creases, competitors set out with spare boards in tow and anchored them to a buoy in the channel. Just in case.
Sally Fitzgibbons, who's imperturbable on her endless quest for challenges, met Saturday's waves head-on and tamed them with her typical grace, scoring two nine-point rides and the day's highest heat total.
Wild card Felicity Palmateer, a born and bred West Aussie, played on the Point's affinity for old friends and used her local knowledge to defeat current world champion Steph Gilmore and Pauline Ado in Heat 3. The 20-year-old goofy-footer won her spot in the comp by adeptly tackling clean, if brutal, 10-foot lefts at Friday's trials. Even Carissa Moore, the only woman to be admitted to the [Men's] Hawaiian Triple Crown, called Friday's conditions "intimidating."
"Yesterday was like three times the size of this morning," Palmateer said. "Today, I guess, was a bit easier. I got a couple of fun ones yesterday, so I was used to the pounding and the power of the ocean. It's pretty much my home break, too, so I felt really comfortable."
Two-time defending champion Courtney Conlogue's utter domination of the first heat showed why she favored the lefthanders, as well. "A lot of people are more comfortable on their front side on bigger waves," she explained, "but I personally prefer when the lefts are firing, because I love going backside."
Tyler Wright, who currently leads the 2013 world title race, posted the second-highest heat total of the day, a 17.33. With all of this emphasis on equipment, it was funny to discover that Wright had been surfing on her brother Mikey's board -- for the first time. And also that she was battling a nasty head cold. Needless to say, she was thankful for a second-round skip.
Carissa Moore and Laura Enever also advanced to Round 3 after winning their heats on Saturday.
DRUG AWARE MARGARET RIVER PRO RESULTS:
WOMEN'S ROUND 1:
HEAT 1: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 13.34, Coco Ho (HAW) 6.60, Paige Hareb (NZL) 3.24
HEAT 2: Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.94, Malia Manuel (HAW) 12.04, Sage Erickson (USA) 6.17
HEAT 3: Felicity Palmateer (AUS) 16.06, Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 14.93, Pauline Ado (FRA)
HEAT 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 18.63, Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 14.40, Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 10.23
HEAT 5: Tyler Wright (AUS) 17.33, Rebecca Woods (AUS) 13.37, Silvana Lima (BRA) 2.83
HEAT 6: Laura Enever (AUS) 12.34, Lakey Peterson (USA) 12.00, Alana Blanchard (HAW) 7.70